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Past Launches

Reports and photos of more recent launches

September 15, 2004
Time: 1:01 AM
Another Minuteman III missile readiness test flight.
I was able to catch the minuteman III test from Vandenberg this morning. It went up pretty much at the start of the launch window. From here in Hermosa Beach it was just a slowly rising brown dot -- almost indistinguishable from a distant plane. Even during first stage separation the magnitude didn't change that much.

There wasn't much fog, but quite a bit of midlevel cloudiness which kept things pretty dim.

Hermosa Beach, CA
I witnessed the launch of the Minutemann III from my usual backyard viewing location. It was a very clear evening so I watched as the missile soared above the tree line headed for its destination! I could see each of the staging perfectly along with the debris of the falling boosters! I watched it until it disappeared from the sky!
Amazing & Awesome!

De Ann
Simi Valley, CA
July 23, 2004
Time: 1:37 AM
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a readiness test flight.
July 21, 2004
Time: 1:01 AM
A "Peacekeeper" (MX) missile was launched on a readiness test flight. (According to Brian Webb's newsletter, this may well have been the penultimate Peacekeeper launch.) As usual, the goal of this flight was to lob one or more unarmed warheads into a test range in the South Pacific.
The launch appeared to occur right on schedule at 0101h.

From my vantage point in the Pierpont area of Ventura, the missile cleared the mountains shortly after launch and climbed rapidly on an easterly heading. The exhaust plume was bright and grew quickly into a long, thin flame as the missile gained altitude.

1-2 staging took place at appx. 70,000 feet and the first stage tumbled noticeably as it trailed the accelerating rocket. You could easily make out the first stage's still glowing nozzle and hot interior as is turned end over end on it's arc toward the water.

2-3 staging was also easy to see at around 200,000 feet and you could even detect the blip in the plume as the extensible nozzle popped into place. Stage 2 was also seen tumbling and trailing the missile as it continued on it's trajectory.

Stage 3 and the post-boost vehicle continued on their journey to Kwajalein Atoll and rapidly dimmed to a rusty red as the dust in the atmosphere began to attenuate its visibility. It then became a slowly moving red "star" until disappearing completely shortly thereafter.

Having worked for the then Northrop Corporation for over 10 years on the IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) for MX, I've seen my fair share of Peacekeeper test launches from VERY close ranges and must say that from this more remote vantage point, it didn't disappoint.

With what looks to be one more "readiness" launch in the program; the era of US, land-based, high capacity MIRV ICBMs will end. Having fulfilled it's role in ending the cold war, the MX missile will retire and fade into the history books.

Josh Kaye-Carr
Ventura, CA
The fog over Morro Bay parted for the launch (no fog here is all but miraculous this time of year). Right at the beginning of the launch window the sky to the South began to glow, and soon thereafter what looked like the biggest highway flare ever rose up over the hills. The first stage's exhaust plume seemed more pinkish than a Minuteman's, and quite a bit bigger. (But I had just been sitting under a flourescent light, so the color impression isn't very trustworthy.) Staging, etc. were visible as usual. The last stage seemed to burn a dimmer red color, even though it was quite high in the sky (maybe 30 degrees) as seen from here, NW of the launch site. I thought I saw some greenish tinted stuff in the plume from the last stage as it developed the familiar crosslike shape at very high altitude. Shoot, didn't have a spectrograph to check if somebody dropped a penny in the motor.

What looked unusual was that a very distinct glowing exhaust cloud was visible for just a short section of the trajectory, seemingly pretty high up at around 3/4 of the way to final burnout of the last stage. The rest of the exhaust trail wasn't visible at all from here. The glowing cloud was visible for several minutes as it changed shape and dissipated in the turbulence.

What sounded unusual was an apparent popping noise which would have coincided with a staging event a minute or two into the flight...but this might have come from a local source or atmospheric effects, been imagined due to lack of sleep, etc.

All in all it was quite impressive for a midnight missile test.

Morro Bay
July 15, 2004
Time: 3:02 AM
A Delta 2 orbited NASA's Aura satellite, which is part of the Earth Observation System (EOS) program. This launch had been rescheduled, scrubbed, and postponed several times.
The NASA Aura launch was quite spectacular from here in the LA area.

At first I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to see it due to some high level cloud cover and haze. But right on schedule it shot up, looking as bright as a street lamp from a couple of blocks away. Not sure of magnitude rating, but it had to be at least -5 or so---almost as bright as the brightest Iridium flare I have seen.

It rose steadily and then started moving almost horizontal to my position, just low enough to stay below the high clouds. At this point when it was just to the WNW of me, you could make out the jellyfish shape of the exhaust plume with the trail covering about 5-10 degrees of sky behind it. And it was all orange due to the haze.

Finally it dipped behind the clouds before blowing the first stage. But it became bright enough during the ejection to see through the clouds for a brief few seconds.

An awesome show! My first since the aborted star wars test in 2000...

Hermosa Beach, CA
Obligatory intro:

I make my home in Oakland, CA. My primary observing interest is satellites, and I occasionally contribute to the SeeSat list at After reading notices on that list re: the Aura launch, as well as Brian Webb's launch observing guide and launch observation reports on your site, I was determined to see my first launch. I selected a site in the Santa Cruz Mountains -- above the marine layer and closer to Vandenberg, yet still a reasonable drive. Following 140-mile round-trip drives on Tuesday and Wednesday (when the launches were scrubbed), this morning's trip made it all worth it. I think I'm hooked. Would like to share with all interested.


I observed NASA's Aura launch this morning from near Mt. Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz mountains (site: 37.0997 N, 121.8636 W, 830 m), about 205 miles (330 km) NNW of the launch site [the distance may be incorrect, as I have conflicting coordinates for the launch site -- correction welcomed]. I recorded the time of significant events using the split function of a stopwatch calibrated to WWV. Mission elapsed (T+) times are relative to 03:01:59.34 PDT, NASA's announced actual liftoff time. My timing error may amount to as much as a second.

T + 00:39.1: First sighting with naked-eye as the rocket rose above the opaque lower atmosphere. It was a brilliant deep orange/red (color of setting sun) due to the low elevation. Perhaps mag -4.

Further observations were with 7x50 binoculars:

T+ 01:06.7: Sudden brightning as the second set of solid rocket motors (SRMs) ignited. Color was now a light orange flame color.

T+ 01:33.7: Ground-ignited SRMs seen tumbling below/behind rocket.

T+ 02:07.1: Dramatic dimming as second set of SRMs burned out.

T+ 02:23.1: SRMs seen tumbling below/behind rocket.

T+ 02:23.1 - 04:21.8: A contour became visible behind the rocket, extending across my binocular field of view. The exhaust envelope widened as the rocket reached the upper atmosphere, the rocket appearing as a point of light within the expanding cloud. This was clearly visible and quite dramatic -- the variously-described "jellyfish" or "sperm head" appearance. I did not expect to see this without sun-lit illumination, as seen in many photos.

T+ 04:21.8: Main engine cutoff, accompanied by a puffy exhaust ring. The rocket reached maximum elevation (about 7.5 degrees) at or shortly before this point.

T+ 04:30.7: Complete dimming of main stage -- nothing visible.

T+ 04:35.7: Second stage ignition: fuzzy white point of light at mag 5 or 6, much dimmer than the first stage. Grew progressively fainter from here.

T+ 06:00.1 Faded beyond visibility, moving downward toward the horizon and slightly westward. It was almost exactly due south and about 3 deg elevation. The lights of Seaside, 52 km across Monterey Bay, were entering the bottom of my 7.5 degree field of view when I lost it. I estimate the final magnitude to be between 7.0 and 7.5.

I could not detect the dog-leg maneuver. Thinking that more magnification may be needed to see those course changes from here. Maybe a telescope next time!

Kent Yeglin
Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
June 23, 2004
Time: 1:32 AM
A Minuteman III was launched on a readiness test flight. As in all Minuteman launches, this one was a suborbital mission, lobbing a dummy warhead to the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific.
May 20, 2004
Time: 10:47 AM
A Taurus XL (ground-launched booster derived from Pegasus) launched a remote sensing satellite (ROCSAT 2) for Taiwan. Like its cousin (Pegasus), this is a relatively tiny booster, and it doesn't make much of a spectacle.
April 20, 2004
Time: 9:57:24 AM precisely
Copyright 2004 by Anita Donohoe

Image copyright 2004 by Anita Donohoe

A Delta 2 launched Gravity Probe B (sounds like a bad 50s science fiction movie, but it's actually an experiment being developed by Stanford University).
She's off!

I was outside, waiting with my camera and binoculars. The head of the contrail was highly visible in the clear sky, glowing red hot with a narrow but dense trail of exhaust. I could hear the steady rumble fade in as the boosters dropped off. The sound moved across the sky until it reached the spot where the boosters broke away.

Anita Donohoe
near Lompoc, CA
December 2, 2003
Time: 2:03 AM
An Atlas 2AS is launched a classified payload (reputedly, 2-3 ocean surveillance satellites) for the National Reconnaissance Office. This was another oft-postponed launch. This was also apparently the last chance to observe an Atlas launch from California.
Actually, this was one of the last launches of anything resembling the original Atlas platform. Its replacement (the Atlas 5) is an "Atlas" in name only, with entirely different tankage and engine.
As we came up over the hill on the North side of Vandenberg, we immediately spotted the last of the Atlas 2's standing majestically on its pad, awash in brilliant flood lights. We were close enough to be able to see steam being released from near the top and bottom of the rocket that drifted east stretching all the way to the retracted mobile service tower.

We parked just below one of the tracking cameras on a hill near the entrance to Vandenberg to watch the launch. We were lucky to be able to hear the official countdown coming from the base command radio near the camera. At 'One', a bright purple flame is seen beneath the Atlas followed a second later by an incredibly bright orange/white ball of flame created from the 2 ground-lit boosters and main engine ignitions. As the rocket slowly climbed from the pad, the entire valley began to light up as if the sun was rapidly rising. Just as the Atlas pierced some thin clouds, the thunderous sound started the invasion of our senses that lasted for 2 or 3 minutes. The rocket re-appeared above the cloud just after the air-lit boosters ignited and I could see the ground-lit boosters tumbling away several moments later. We saw the separation poof followed by the next stage burn for some time and then it disappeared.

Todd Walker
Grover Beach, CA
Just thought that I would write in and say thank you for the update that pinned down the time to 2:03am! I went up on the roof of our lab with my binocs and managed to have a fine view. I'm sure that you were out as well, but in case the clouds were out in san diego, here's how it looked: A very bright orange flame, that grew elongated after about 30 seconds. In the last couple of minutes of the flight (visible nicely especially with binoculars) was the broadening fanlike exhaust plume...really cool! Saw the solids burn out. Either a staging or the boosters being kicked off made a bit of a 'pop'. The burn continued for another couple of minutes until there was a final fade out..maybe 4 minutes after I first saw it come over the horizon.

John DeModena, CalTech/HHMI
Pasadena, CA

[Russ: Actually, I was on the East Coast, visiting family, during this launch. Sounds like I missed a good one!]
I stayed up late to watch the launch live on the net and from my backdoor. Launch occurred at 2:04 as planned. I have a 2 story house behind my house so I wasn't able to see Atlas until about a minute 45 seconds into the flight. The air-lit SRBs had already fired by that time and I was able to see the rocket until SRB burnout then it went out of my view from inside the house. Then watched the the rest of the flight from the live coverage from ILS launch services website. About 2 minutes after I stopped watching outside I believe I heard and felt a small sonic boom. I'm pretty sure it was from the rocket. That got my cats looking around.

William T
Oxnard, CA
We watched the launch of the Atlas 2AS! It was a beautifully clear star-filled night and the rocket along with its fiery exhaust was clearly visible from my usual back yard viewing spot! It was awesome to watch as it raced across the sky! It was so much brighter than I had anticipated. It was visible for approximately 4 minutes! It was spectacular!! I'm kicking myself for not making the 2-hour trek to see this launch up close and personal! I'm looking forward to more awe-inspiring launches in 2004!!!
Have a happy holiday season!!

De Ann
Simi Valley, CA
I just had to tell ya that I forgot all about the launch until I just seen this e-mail. See the funny thing is, I was just leaving a friends house (About 2:00am) when I noticed a bright orange light that looked like it was just beyond the house it was over.(looked really close) At first I thought it was a hellicopter with a orange spot light. Then I reallized that a hellicopter wouldn't have a orange light on it. DUH! Then It started moving faster south and getting higher until it disappeared. To tell you the truth I thought it was a UFO. LOL. I was even contemplating telling my friend that I saw a UFO because she would have thought I was crazy or something. Good to know i'm not crazy ....just have a bad memory.
Just thought you could use a laugh.

Unknown location
We had a clear night's view of the launch from the eastern hills of Simi Valley. The first stage fire ball was as big as a quarter coil at arms length. With binoculars, I was able to view the trajectory South until it flamed out at 2:09. At 2:15 we had a pleasant surprise of first a low frequency sound (similar to an earthquake) followed by a thunderous boom from off in the distance. Many dogs in the neighborhood howled in applause... Thanks again for your emails!

Eric Behnke
Simi Valley, CA
October 19, 2003
Time: 9:17 AM 10/18/2003 Titan 2 launch, copyright 2003 by J.R. Ridgeley
A Titan 2 finally launched a meteorological satellite (DMSP), after many, many, many, many reschedulings. This was apparently the last Titan 2 scheduled to be launched.
We watched the launch of the last Titan II from a hilltop, a mile or so north of the main entrance to Vandenberg. The weather could not have been more perfect, with temps in the upper 70's or low 80's, and with a very low fog layer at the coast, near the launchpad. 9:17 came, and you could clearly see the rocket as it slowly lifts off the pad with a brown puff of smoke jetting off to the south. Right after it cleared the tower, it appeared to me that it was actually losing speed and coming to a stop but then it started picking up speed again. An exhaust trail appeared for a brief time during its climb, then it disappeared again just as the sound started to reach us. As the rocket turned South it turned its two nozzles directly at us and they appeared as two bright stars caught in each other's gravity. The sound increased in volume to a thunderous stomach-shaking roar moments later as a result of this Southward turn. Staging occured as another puff of brown smoke. I was able to see first stage falling earthward, trailing smoke, as stage 2 continued its climb for a few moments. Then everything but a short swirling contrail disappeared from sight.

Todd Walker
Grover Beach, CA
Finally managed to see Saturday's launch, after driving out from under the Morro Bay fog which, as usual, appeared just in time to block the view. You mentioned that the Titan II was relatively about stealthy? It made a beautiful white trail for the first few thousand feet where the atmosphere was dense enough to condense the exhaust vapors -- and then vanished. The expected high-altitude exhaust trail of ice crystals never appeared, despite scattered cirrus clouds, and from 50-ish miles away I couldn't locate the vehicle. But it was nice to hear that the old birds went out on a successful note.

Morro Bay, CA
September 10, 2003
Time: apx 4:31 AM
A Minuteman III was launched in a routine test, lobbing dummy warheads into the mid-Pacific.

Here at Morro Bay we had thin ground fog through which the full Moon was clearly visible along with stars brighter than about mag 1. The exhaust plume of the rocket was easy to see as it climbed westward. Staging events could be seen easily, but the falling boosters couldn't due to the fog (on clear nights they're usually clearly visible). Unfortunately the exhaust trail wasn't visible through the fog, but it must have looked great for someone with clear weather. The sound was clearly audible as usual.

I think moonlight illuminated launches might deserve special mention.
Perhaps someone outside the fog zone got a picture?

Morro Bay, CA
Well I set my alarm for 4:20 am so I would be awake enough to watch for the launch of the Minuteman III. So I grabbed my sweater and binoculars and went out to the yard to set up the lawn chair in my special viewing spot thinking I might be there for awhile. The sky was crystal clear with the moon and stars aglow! Approximately 4:32 am I saw the missile rising above the trees in the sky! I could see the orange glow of the exhaust. As I watched I could see the staging perfectly along with the falling boosters! Beautiful! I am constantly amazed at the sight of these missiles!! This was a great show!! Sorry no pictures. Thanks again for keeping us updated on these exciting viewing opportunities.

De Ann J.
Simi Valley, CA
August 16, 2003
Time: apx 11:00 AM
Vandenberg AFB launched a booster that is a candidate for throwing the ballistic missile defense interceptor ("kill vehicle") at an incoming target. There was no intercept on this mission. This was just a test of the booster, which is derived from Orbital Sciences' Pegasus (but without wings).
Due to a thick fog layer at our normal missile viewing spot near the entrance to Guadalupe Dunes we decided to watch the launch on Highway 1 from a spot roughly 4.5 miles East of the silo. After the booster quickly climbed on top of a beautiful bright orange flame, it appeared that we were directly underneath the vehicle as if we launched it ourselves from where we were. I felt a tinge of fear as I imagined something going wrong and it decides to come back to mother earth and land in our car! The sound was incredible since the engine turned directly towards us after it finally turned Westward on a ballistic arc. We give this candidate a score of 8.5 for viewing enjoyment, bring on the next entry please!

Todd Walker/Jer Jarvis (Independent Launch Viewing Judges
Grover Beach
August 12, 2003
Time: 7:09 PM
A Pegasus XL was launched from Orbital Science's Stardancer L-1011 while in flight, successfully carrying a Canadian science satellite (SciSat 1) into polar orbit.
From our point of view at the entrance to Pismo Dunes, the Pegasus flight path went directly across the center of the setting sun (I'm still seeing spots!). I didn't expect to see anything from this far away, so I was pleasantly surprised. We couldn't see the flame however, but a puff from the first staging event was visible as the contrail covered about a 50 degree portion of the sky. The sun has just about set and the contrail has now turned into what looks like some fancy unreadable handwriting.

Todd Walker
Grover Beach
Copyright 2003 by Josh Kaye-Carr I just thought I'd pass along this pix of the Pegasus contrail from the SCISAT launch.
While the launch itself wasn't visible from my location (my view was directly into the almost setting sun), the exhaust trail was relatively noticeable after sunset. We watched the feed from NASA TV during the boost phase and went outside after payload separation to see if we could find the contrail. Although not very pronounced, it was at least visible and quite convoluted.

Josh Kaye-Carr
Pierpont Bay, Ventura, CA
August 6, 2003
Time: apx 2:00 AM
A Minuteman III was launched in a routine test. The payload would have been dummy nuke warheads and possibly decoys, with a destination being the Pacific Ocean, near the Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands.

Alarm stirs me up at 1:20 and I make the 1 mile journey down to the Pismo Dunes to watch the launch. It was a beautiful fog-free night and I could clearly see the Milky Way stretching across the sky. I found a recently abandon beach fire pit and kept warm by the glowing red embers still simmering. Launch time came and went without incident but I had faith and stuck it out. Mars looked dazzling and I was able to count three Perseid meteors during my wait. Launch occurred sometime after 2:00am with the layer of fog near the pad lighting up. I could make out two long bright yellow-orange flames coming from the nozzles on the engines with my binoculars as it rose above the clouds. I took a moment to notice how bright the beach was and how I could see the hordes of vehicles with camping tourist oblivious to what was happening and the waves breaking all the way down the beach towards the pad. As stage 1 neared the end of its service, the flame color shifted towards white. After separation and the usual tumbling/blinking of the first stage falling away, I noticed something I've never seen in previous launches. Right as stage 2 ignites, the flames display several colors from white near the engine to light blue then blue then several shades of purple near the tip of the flame. I would love to get a picture of that! Similar colors are seen in the flame with stage 3 as it starts with a poof and begins to draw a luminescent blue cloud for 10 degrees of sky. This is the time the delicious thud..rumble starts to reach my inner ear and increases my adrenalin flow even more. The self-lit blue line shapes itself into an 'S' pattern and lasts for several minutes. I really do enjoy these shows!
Todd Walker
Grover Beach, CA
At about 2:08am, we spotted the missile rising from 15 degrees above the west northwest horizon. The faint orange 'dot' grew brighter as it continued to climb to the southwest. Trailing debris was clearly visible when viewed with binoculars. When the later staging commenced, the resulting high altitude burst of exhaust and vapor was illuminated by the light of the moon (...which had already set at this point). Several seconds later, the bright orange dot started to dim and then suddenly disappeared. The duration of the viewing was about a minute or so.
To sum it all up...a good show at 2am, but really starting to miss those spectacular 'twilight' launches!!!!

Shawn C.
Simi Valley, CA
June 26, 2003
Time: 11:53 AM
A Pegasus XL dropped from the belly of a modified L-1011 airliner, ignited its engine, and lofted a commercial imaging satellite (Orbview 3) into a polar orbit.

The launch was completely invisible from San Diego. The fog hadn't burned off completely, at the coastline, and that probably helped obscure the launch.
Viewed the Pegasus Launch from a spot on the coast just North of San Simeon Point roughly 100 miles WSW from the launch coordinates. The weather was absolutely incredible with warm temperatures and very calm seas. Launch occurred around 10 degrees above the horizon and we could barely see the contrail through a dull haze layer that extended up to about 15 degrees. It flew level for a few seconds and then turned upward 45 degrees at which point we could see a small bright orange flame as it climbed out of the haze. This lasted for a few moments and then we lost sight of it for good. The bright white contrail was still visible when we left at 1:30.

Todd Walker
Grover Beach
June 26, 2003
Time: 11:50 AM to 12:05 PM
A Pegasus XL will drop from the belly of a modified L-1011 airliner, ignite its engine, and loft a commercial imaging satellite (Orbview 3) into a polar orbit.
June 11, 2003
Time: 1:01 AM
A Minuteman III readiness test launch.
This ballistic missile lobbed dummy nuclear warheads toward Kwajalein Island in the South Pacific.
March 12, 2003
Time: apx 1:28 AM
A Peacekeeper ICBM was launched on readiness test, designated GT-32PA. The payload consisted of dummy nuclear warheads, targeted at various locations in the test range in the Pacific Ocean, near Kwajalein Atoll.
At approximately 1:28am Wed., the missile appeared as a brilliant white dot with visible 'tail' rising from scattered low clouds, 15 degrees above the northwest horizon. As it ascended to the west-southwest, the exhaust changed in color and size to a smaller orange ball. Staging was clearly visible through binoculars, marked by a very brief vapor ring 'puff' that was illuminated by the newly fired stage. The glowing 'spent' stage blinked a few times as it fell away and disappeared. Total duration of the viewing lasted about 1 minute or so.

..not as spectacular as an evening twilight launch, but still an amazing sight to see!

De Ann J.
Shawn C.
viewed from Simi Valley, CA
My girl and I jumped truck and drove the 15 miles down to Guadalupe to watch the launch. This would be our first viewing of a Peacekeeper and we were very excited. We parked in the dark silent fields fairly near the silo and waited for the liftoff. 12:01am happened but the missile didn't. She had an appointment early the next morning so we decided to give them 20 minutes and then leave. So at 12:21, we left.

After dropping her off, I head down to the dunes of Pismo Beach to get a view from 20 miles or so away. Around 1:30am just as the tide just reached my right front tire, a huge flash of light is seen to the South. The flame was long and bright and orange in color as it cleared the hill. After a few seconds the flame turned slowly to a deep beautiful red. 1st stage drops of in a ball of flames and debris and tumbles towards the ocean. 2nd stage was something to behold. A very very bright pinpoint of white light with a lengthy white tail that slowly gained a bluish-purple edge as it climbed. The reflection off the ocean was just breathtaking, like watching 2 missiles at once! 3rd stage seemed a little more violent as it separated with a big puff of smoke. The puff turned into a perfect spiraling smoke ring as stage 3 fired up. At this time the sound reached my ears and was MUCH louder than the fairly loud surf right next to me. I could see what looked like 2 columns of flame coming out of the 3rd stage as it climbed for several seconds and disappeared into the wild black yonder. Looking forward to the next one!

Todd Walker
Grover Beach
February 6, 2003
Time: 1:01 PM
A "Taurus Lite" booster, derived from the upper stages of a Taurus orbital launcher, was launched on a sub-orbital trajectory. This launch was a test of a booster for the "kill vehicle" to be used in the "Ground-Based Midcourse Defense" (formerly known as the National Missile Defense) program.
The NMD/Taurus launch was easily visible from our location (Pierpont Bay). Using a pair of 7X50 binoculars I acquired the booster as it appeared over the hills. The booster showed a fairly bright orange plume coming from its nozzle and was leaving a rather faint exhaust trail. The vehicle's airframe was barely visible and must have been relatively small. Staging was visible and the booster was seen falling away from the upper stage/kill vehicle. The booster was still showing an yellow/orange plume as it slowed down. I followed the upper stage for several seconds more, but its exhaust was much less distinct and it disappeared in the bright afternoon sky about 30 seconds after staging. The exhaust/condensate trail dissipated rather quickly and showed no noticeable diffraction artifacts.

The most remarkable thing about this launch was the speed of the vehicle. Its velocity was noticeably higher than either a Minuteman or Delta launch.

Josh Kaye-Carr
Ventura, CA
January 12, 2003
Time: 4:45 PM
A Delta 2 launched a pair of NASA research satellites. One was an earth-studies satellite (ICESAT), and the other was an astronomic satellite (CHIPSAT).

Owing to considerable haze, the flight just wasn't visible from San Diego (nor even from Laguna Beach, apparently).
I saw this one. The exhaust plume was brightly backlit. Initially, the missle was a bright point above it, then it developed a clear contrail which was visible all across the sky. Just before it faded out, I heard the deep rumble.

Lompoc, CA
Delta 2 on solid rocket boosters. Copyright 2003 by Ron Röhrenbacher Delta 2 after solid rocket booster burnout. Copyright 2003 by Ron Röhrenbacher I went up to my normal spot and the weather was looking great. A little less than an hour before launch low clouds began to come in, you could see that the base was getting covered. Then a low black cloud began to come straight at me. It was moving very rapidly and it was obvious I was going to be under the clouds as well. That's the way the weather can work at Lompoc. Grabbed up the camera equipment and moved about a mile north where there was clear sky.

A few minutes after the window opened the Delta rose just to my right. A very bright flame followed by a nicely backlit contrail. The rocket continued until it made its pitch south. After the boosters exhausted you could continue to see it gaining altitude. Eventually it faded away into the sky. I wasn't able to see the boosters drop or the second stage fire. However it did provide for a few nice photos.

Ron Röhrenbacher
Pomona, CA
January 6, 2003
Time: 6:19 AM
A Titan 2 orbited Coriolis, a DoD weather satellite.
Observed the launch Monday morning from Coronado. Looked about as bright and large as a star. Could not see any rocket plume but did see two stages separate.

Coronado, CA
My PDA roused me from my NPR-accompanied slow start-of-day wake-up ritual. I dragged myself out of bed and checked, which confirmed that the launch was still on.

So then I drag myself over to a west-facing window, and take the caps off my binoculars, to focus them on Jupiter. That's odd, I can't find Jupiter in the binoculars. Oh, wait. You need to take the caps off the big end, too! 8-) confirms that the launch took place at 6:19, and it's now nearly 6:21 with no sight of anything. Maybe this will be another bust...

Then, suddenly, I spot a fairly bright orange flash almost due west, and around 20 degrees above the horizon. I'm thinking, this doesn't bode well -- could that have been a destruct? I check SpaceFlightNow, and everything seems okay. Perhaps that was the staging!

I still can't see anything for awhile -- and then there it is! A bright spot with a fuzzy trail. I find it in the binoculars, and there it is, with four flashing specks (probably jettisoned payload fairing segments) flying away from it. The spot continues to accellerate south, alternately getting fuzzy and then getting bright and sharp. Eventually, around 6-7 minutes after launch, the spot fuzzes out for good.

San Diego, CA
6:20nothing and thinking of going back inside
apx 6:21a bright flash in the sky due West at appox. 20 degrees above horizon and traveling to the South. It then appeared as a small white dot with a faint white trail visible only with binoculars
apx 6:26disappears from sight due South and altitude appox 30 degrees. It appeared that a flashing white light was near by and following the rocket. An optical illusion or a tracking aircraft?
[Note from Russ: This was almost certainly one of the jettisoned fairing panels, which tumble and flash in the sun.]
Not spectacular but well worth interrupting my morning newspaper reading to watch.

John Bing
Laguna Beach, CA
From Aptos,CA just south of Santa Cruz I viewed from the ocean cliff on a crystal clear pre-dawn morning 1/6/03. I have seen a number of Minuteman launches which are spectacular here on their westward route. I wasn't sure what to expect from a southward launch. I expected to see some vertical contrail in the first light but my first view was the exhaust gas cone of the T2 at 20 degrees elevation and, amazingly, a second, smaller exhaust cone several degrees apart and running parrallel... I assume this was the already deployed 2nd satellite of the launch? [Note from Russ: Extremely unlikely. The payload is not deployed until after the second stage completes its burn, and that would probably not be visible from California. I also thought I saw a second object that was generating a tail. I'm guessing that it might have been the first stage. It seemed to be climbing, but that might just be an illusion, due to relative motions of the objects.] I was able to follow the rocket burn glow to a point low on the horizon to the south. Immediately, the sunrise began to illuminate a small, but bright, vapor trail cloud and eventually, a longer, serpentine of vapor trail which prompted phone calls to the AM TV news shows. I read a previous launch report where you questioned viewing a south launch from San Jose but, believe me, Monterey Bay is a superb viewing spot if the weather cooperates.

Thom Rice
Aptos, CA
Hey, the launch was pretty cool from here by Morro Bay also. I was hoping for some backlighting, given that we're NNW of the launch site (roughly) and the sun rises from ESE.

As the craft rose from behind a hill it was about as bright as Jupiter (which was conveniently visible for comparison), not so bright as Venus. About the same color too, yellowish-white.

The exhaust trail was oddly intermittent -- on at low altitudes, off as it climbed higher, another section of visible trail higher yet, etc. The staging was clearly visible, as was the separation of the payload covers (I assume that's what it was! The pieces fell and tumbled and looked a bit like like blinking Christmas lights). Then the whole lot slowly disappeared into the hillside.

Worth getting up for (yawn).

Pictures at this link.

Note that most of the dots are bad camera pixels, not stars or planets (Venus excepted).

John Ridgely
Morro Bay, CA
The Titan launch was fairly spectacular from our location. Using a pair of 7X50 binocs I acquired the booster as it appeared over the low lying morning haze. The exhaust was readily apparent, and in its earliest stages showed a pronounced lengthening as the booster rose. It was orangish-yellow in color and you could actually make out the color change as the flame got further away from the nozzle.

Staging was readily apparent with a pronounced flash as the stages separated. The 2nd stage proceeded along its trajectory as stage one started to loose speed and arc downward. A few seconds after separation there appeared a large number of "sparklers" around stage one. I assume these were the specular reflections from the interstage debris. The debris field was quite large and had several dozen individual components in it. They twinkled on and off for about a minute before disappearing in the gathering light.

Following stage 2 on its flight path, I saw fairing separation. From my perspective there were three pieces that moved away from the main rocket body like the apexes of an equilateral triangle. Perfectly symmetrical.

Stage 2 continued downrange with its exhaust plume growing larger very rapidly. I was able to follow it until it disappeared over the SW horizon.

Certainly not a Delta or Minuteman launch show, but definitely worth getting up for.

Josh Kaye-Carr
Pierpont Bay, Ventura, CA
December 11, 2002
Time: apx 12:30 AM
A Minuteman 2 sent a target and decoys toward Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific, in a test of a National Missile Defense system. The goal of this test was to verify that the interceptor can engage and impact the target during nighttime conditions.
Decent view: clear sky, moon had set. Launched around 12:30AM. Staging clearly visible, and we watched the spent stages as they fizzled out and dropped down. One of the spent stages formed a blinking orange light for a couple of minutes as it tumbled while the rocket climbed away from it. At higher altitudes, the exhaust trail was clearly visible for a few minutes. I suppose this was due to illumination in the light of the moon which had set a while before, or is there some effect which causes air to glow at that altitude? Either way it was cool to look at, though of course it didn't compare to a launch just after sunset.

Some passengers flying over us in an airliner which was probably heading to Asia must have had a heck of a view, if they bothered to look.

John Ridgely
Morro Bay, CA
October 14, 2002
Time: 7:00 PM

Copyright 2002 by Jim Drebert
Photo by Jim Drebert, central CA
A Minuteman II lobbing a target to exercise the National Missile Defense system. Reportedly, the target was successfully intercepted.

Copyright 2002 by Russ Schnapp Well, here's what I saw from San Diego, peeking through the clouds. At the bottom right is the exhaust trail while the vehicle was still mostly in the atmosphere. At the top left is the second stage, climbing above the atmosphere.

We saw it! We saw the first stage burnout, we didn't see anything from the second stage.

Curtis Croulet
Temecula, California
Just saw the most FANTASTIC LAUNCH EVER from Frazier Park/Lebec! When the stages fell away it lit the sky like you would imagine the second coming would -- and I'm not religious! The trail was a kaleidoscope of colors! And to top it off, my neighbors want to be on your list. I'm sending them to your site.
Have a great evening :)

Marie Andrews
Frazier Park, CA
Thank you very much for all your work on our behalf! My 10 year old grandson (in fact, other family members, too) and I have become quite close when we are watching for these missiles. We chat over the cell phone before, sometimes during, and after a lift-off. We were all thrilled with this last one -- this evening, and it was prompt!

It's very educational, beautiful, intriguing, and something we can enjoy together! Many thanks.

Oh, yes, we live between Apple Valley and Big Bear in the small county strip called Lucerne Valley (not a city). We're at about 3000'. Tonight's viewing was great!!

I don't understand what all I saw yet, but guess it will be in tomorrow's paper. The others I have seen didn't have the white tip that simply grew and grew and grew. It almost looked like an angel ever so briefly. My grandson phoned me excitedly, and said, "Grandma, it detonated!"

Just had to say thanks, again!

Pat Judkins (and Alex, too!)
Lucerne Valley, CA
Copyright 2002 by Fred Bruenjes Thanks for the updates on the Minuteman launch! I was able to get a few pictures of it despite lots of clouds here.

Fred Bruenjes
Ramona, CA.
Tonight a Minuteman II solid-fueled missile was launched from Vandenberg AFB at just past 7 PDT. The view from here in Canebrake far surpassed anything I would have predicted. First we saw the tiny orange exhaust plume trailing smoke that glowed red as it rose into the sunlight. When it reached full sunlight it became a huge, intensely brilliant white flare that quickly expanded into an immense white glowing sphere trailing that twisting white tail which faded to red, a cosmic spermatozoan on its way to wreak mischief! It reflected so much light it lit the entire western sky! I saw two staging events (I think) where white spheres quickly expanded away from the rocket and dispersed. The incredible giant white sphere then faded, leaving a distorted, multi-colored brilliant cloud which reminded me of a Hubble photo of some part of the Veil Nebula or some other great nebula. On top of that, above it was a comma of pure blue-green light, some kind of artificial aurora! The color looked like doubly ionized oxygen to me. The cloud reddened and slowly faded as the sun set on it, but the aurora remained constant for many minutes afterwards. The size, brilliance, color, and dynamic motion of the event were stunning. If we have a nuclear war, at least it will be pretty.

Joe Bergeron
Onyx, CA
Saw the launch perfectly from Coronado Beach, six miles north of the Mexican border. Could follow the rocket until it faded away.

Coronado, CA
Unfortunately we had some haze in the West. However the launch itself did put on a show. We saw it climbing straight up in the western sky. A very bright flare coming from the missile followed with a bright twinkling contrail. It was in and out of the clouds but at one point when it cleared we could see it light up during staging. We were able to follow it for about three minutes. It left a small post-launch contrail of red, white and blue in a tight swirl. Not the best conditions or locations for photos, but I did get this one. Copyright 2002 by Röhrenbacher

Ron Röhrenbacher
Pomona, CA
The launch went off as scheduled, right at 7pm. I was at a local rural community meeting and we all went outside to see the contrail. This was one of the most spectacular that I've seen. The sun had set, but it position was just right to backlight the contrail from the launch.

In the western sky, I saw what looked like a brilliant star in the center of four long radiant arms, forming a simple cross. A blue cloud appeared in the upper right quadrant, dim at first, then gaining in density. To the right of the star was the twisted contrail in rainbow hues.

I hope some of you were able to see tonight's visual treat.

Lompoc, CA
Tracy Justus, in Simi Valley, captured a beautiful sequence of shots. Here's a link to his site.
Copyright 2002 by Tracy Justus

My friend and I were getting out of our wetsuits after surfing and saw the ICBM that was launched on Oct. 14, 2002. We didn't know what it was at the time. I'd never seen a missile before.

We are actually in Santa Cruz (about 80 miles south of San Fracisco), which is quite a bit north from Vandenburg and most of your respondents, but we saw the missile and contrail brilliantly. The contrail was coming right off the projectile in real time with amazing crisp white illumination. I knew it was at a really high altitude object because it was already pretty dark at 7pm and the contrail was really lit up. We could see parabola-shaped pressure waves coning off the nose of the missile very clearly. [Russ: These were not pressure waves off the nose cone. At altitude, you can see minute changes in thrust chamber pressure reflected immediately in the exhaust trail, which is expanding at incredible speeds.] At one point the color of the contrail changed greenish and then we saw the whole thing silenty burst like a small faint green firework. I'm assuming this was the ICBM shaking hands with the interceptor. [Russ: Actually, not. This was probably just the exhaustion of the upper stage engine. The intercept didn't happen for another 25 minutes or so, a thousand miles past Hawaii, and well below our horizon.]

I had no idea what it was until I came across some websites similar to yours. Thanks for sharing all the info. It was one of the most amazing, crisp, brilliant things I have ever seen. My first response was to turn to my buddy and tell him I wanted a rocket kit like that. But now, knowing what it really was, I find the whole thing kind of disturbing, really. I'm not used to seeing near-orbit nuclear-capable ICBM's going Mach 20 over the ocean. Physically amazing but emotionally haunting, isn't it?

Aaron Bartley
Santa Cruz, CA
My wife and I were taking a drive in the Sutter Buttes Mountain Range (Just outside of Yuba City/Marysville) in Northern California. I noticed the bright white contrail and immediately pulled my pickup truck over to the side of the road to watch. I was able to see the booster separation (the bright flash) and the multi-colored contrail twisting formation was visible for about 45 minutes afterwards.

Clark Cook
Rocklin, Ca
Copyright 2002 by Mark Loomis, Thousand Oaks, CA

September 19, 2002
Time: 7:31 PM

Copyright 2002 by Mark Loomis, Thousand Oaks, CA
A Minuteman III test. This was another readiness/test flight.

Since the flight occurred shortly after sunset, and as the Minuteman III is a solid fuel rocket that leaves copious opaque exhaust, the launch left blazingly spectacular evidence in the sky for hundreds of miles. SoCal SkyLights added approximately 100 new subscribers in the 48 hours surrounding this launch, as hundreds of curious viewers asked Google what the heck had just lit up the sky in this manner.
Here are a few observations:
My fiance and I live in Montara, about 15 miles south of San Francisco on the coast. We were out walking the dogs around 1930 PDT when she noticed what looked to be a comet, out over the ocean (west from us), moving somewhat slowly in what looked to be from left to right (northerly).

We had no idea what it was and I became very fearful that the gods were angry with our clan. Fortunately my fiance is the daughter of a rocket scientist and so assured me that though the god was angry it could be appeased with some sacrifice in the form of doing the dishes or taking her out to dinner.

The object was a small bright ball; bright like the landing lights on a jet, and there was a sizable fan shaped tail spraying at an angle of approximately 7 o'clock (as opposed to a long comet tail). There were no visible contrails behind the object, but we were in a coastal grove and trees blocked our site to the south.

We watched and speculated on the object for about 30 seconds when all of the sudden it blew up and all traces of the object disappeared. The explosion looked like a dim, white firework, but no report. As we walked further on, our view south opened up and we could see the ragged wind-swept contrails stretching south.

I am glad that the angry god is gone, and we ate left overs for dinner.

Geoffrey Davis
Montara, CA

[RUSS:Gee, I wonder if I could use that Angry God ploy on my spouse!   8-) ]
I shot the enclosed photo shortly after sunset from Pahrump, NV. Was this a missle test? Unfortunately, I was a couple of hundred yards from the house and had to run get the camera. By the time I was able to get this pic, the truly impressive explosion halo had dissipated.
Copyright 2002 by Timothy Carter
Copyright 2002 Timothy Carter
BTW, we were looking due west at the time.
Timothy Carter
Pahrump, NV

[RUSS:I don't think there was an explosion, per se. It was probably just the staging of the missile that caused the transient flash and expanding ring of gases that you saw.]
This shot was taken Thurs. evening from my yard, here in Bakersfield, CA. Copyright 2002 by Fred M. Alexis
Photo Copyright 2002 Fred M. Alexis

On Sept. 19, around 7:40 PM local time, I observed a launch while visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The event was about 50 minutes after local sunset, but the trail from the rocket was apparently still in full sunlight, as it remained brightly illuminated all the way down to the horizon. I managed to get a shot of the trail with my digital camera.

The launch was in the general direction of Nellis or Vandenberg AFB. Back in Las Vegas, where we were staying, no news of a launch was heard. Vandenberg is almost 500 miles from Grand Canyon Village, so I thought that a closer launch facility was more likely. [but of course, it wasn't]

Copyright 2002 by Gerald O'Hearn
Photo Copyright 2002 Gerald O'Hearn

The rocket was visible for over 1 minute, and I suspect that it was multistage. Before losing sight of the vehicle, it had risen to about 30 degrees above the horizon. I noticed the launch too late to witness 1st stage separation, if this did occur.

Gerald O'Hearn
Grand Canyon Village, AZ
As you can imagine, our kids (ages 11 and 13) were awestruck at the light show put on by the Minuteman launch from Vandenberg. We live in Bakersfield and were at a function at my daughter's school, and everyone wound up outside staring at the sky. We had no idea what it was -- some folks in the crowd mentioned the possibility of a missile, but most of us were completely bewildered. (Someone in the crowd said it must be the aurora borealis -- I thought that was a kick.) The next morning we were dying to find some info (and hopefully some pictures) of what we'd seen. Found your site via Google, and it's great!

Dennis and Mary Newman,
Bakersfield, CA
I was on my way back home from the L.A. county fair and I heard about the Minuteman III Missile Launch that was to occur sometime on September 19, 2002. I did not take the launch seriously, but I wish I had. I was on the 15 freeway when the launch occured, I am guessing. I was going South and I never knew about the rocket that flew in the west at that time until I decided to go to Jack in the Box in Mira Loma, CA, off Limonite. When I got out of my car, there was the brightest trail I have ever seen lit up by the sun in the upper atmosphere. It was red on the bottom and hit BRIGHT white at the top accompanied by a rainbow or colors in the high atmosphere.

I was like, "WHOA! Look at that!" It caught alot of people's attention and certainly did mine. As the minutes went passed, the trail diminished quite quickly, to my surprise, until it was gone. Man what a sight, wish I saw the whole thing, but something is better than nothing, you all have to agree.

Brian Martin,
Mira Loma, CA
July 17, 2002
Time: 1:01 AM to 7:00 AM
A Minuteman III test. This is a regular test of the launch, guidance, and tracking systems.
I live in Ontario, CA. A group of us decided to meet in a parking lot at 1AM PDT. We all got there on time. The rocket was seen at 1:05AM coming through the clouds. It was VERY dim!. Probably magnitude was no brighter than 0. It continued very slowly up to about 30 degrees until it burned out. I saw the 1st stage separation, and the second stage ignite about halfway into the launch. On March 15, 2002, I saw the another Minuteman launch, only it was in the evening. I mean it was great! My question to myself was, "Why was the missile at 60 degrees or higher before flickering out during the March launch, and this time it was only at 30 degrees?"

Kevin Martin,
Ontario, CA
June 24, 2002
Time: 11:22 AM
A Titan 2 launching a civilian (NOAA) meteorological satellite. Note that the Titan 2 engines do not produce much visible light, nor are the exhaust products particularly conspicuous. You have to be pretty close to the launch site to catch a Titan 2 flight!
As expected, the Titan was a no-show in the skies over San Diego. The only way I got a good view of this flight was on NASA TV.

I was on the telephone and heard that distinctive rumble. Looked out my front window and saw the thick contrail grow as the rumble increased. My windows rattled.

Lompoc, CA
June 7, 2002
Time: apx 1:20 AM
A Minuteman III operational test flight, toward Kwajalein Island.

The Minuteman launch was very nice to see. I used my 10x70 glasses and you can see the various stages fall away. They appeared to blink brightly against the dark sky when the red hot nozzles were pointed in my direction. When the first stage burned out and the second stage ignited there was only a short time before there was another "apparent" staging. Is this an interstage that is being jettisoned or is it a nose shroud that is being let go?----cannot see why the second stage should burn for such a short time.

Dave Close
Central Valley, CA

Copyright 2002 by Granville Swope, Nipomo, CA
Copyright 2002 by Granville Swope, Nipomo, CA

May 4, 2002
Time: 2:54:58 - 3:04:58 AM
A Delta II carried a NASA EOS satellite into orbit.

Very nice SRB's---very pretty in 10X70 binoculars.

Dave Close
Central Valley, CA

Just happened to wake up a bit after 2am and drug my self out of bed.

I saw a bright light streak across the western sky for about 45 seconds then suddenly out of sight. Due to the time of the mission no view of an exhaust trail, just a bright light in the sky. Nothing spectacular enough to take a photo.

Ron Röhrenbacher
Pomona, CA

Rainbow exhaust 1, copyright 2002 by Edouard Schmidtlin
NMD launch vehicle exhaust as seen from Arcadia, CA; copyright 2002 by Edouard Schmidtlin

Rainbow exhaust 2, copyright 2002 by Edouard Schmidtlin
NMD launch vehicle exhaust from Arcadia, CA, a little later; copyright 2002 by Edouard Schmidtlin

March 15, 2002
Time: apx 6:20 PM

Rainbow exhaust trail, copyright 2002 by Gina Pisello
Rainbow exhaust trail, Venus, and the new moon (right-to-left), copyright 2002 by Gina Pisello

NMD target launcher's exhaust trail, copyright 2002 by William Tasca
NMD target launcher's exhaust trail, copyright 2002 by William Tasca

More exhaust trail photos
A modified Minuteman II hurled a simulated nuclear warhead, along with several decoy balloons, toward Kwajalein Atoll, in the south Pacific. This is in support of the National Missile Defense program. (We have reports from similar launches on 7/7/2000 and 10/2/1999.)

Because the launch took place shortly after sunset, it yielded some very satsifactory viewing (but not from where I was, in San Diego -- there was too much cloud cover). Here are some reports from Sky Lights followers:

Due to the good weather conditions [in Phoenix, AZ], this shot was the most visible, longer time of viewing, brightest, etc. However, until about 15 minutes after launch, the view artifact was pretty much a monochrome, off-white. None of the blue and green glow on the way up. Was all set to photograph using an 8" scope but couldn't find the little attachment ring from DigiScope. Put me in a bad mood, but the actual view through 20x80 binos was impressive.

While viewing this striking phenomenon, I was aware that a few neighbors were active with family activities. The ones that caught my attention were like, saying to children, "Get in the car, we are already late." Also, traffic in front of me was unbelievable. Cars passing slow moving others when the slower was going 45 mph in a 25 mph zone. I can't imagine being a 5-8 year old child, going out to the car, under similar conditions, and not screaming "Mom, Dad, what's that?" I would guess that during this event, I had within my range of vision, from 65 to 150 individuals. I would be very surprised if any of them witnessed the event.

It looks like the current crop of kids, and their parents, live in a world that is dominated by a grotesque form of tunnel vision.

Robin Wier
Phoenix, Arizona

My daughter, who lives in Apache Junction, AZ, and I both watched the March 15, 2002 target vehicle launch at the same time I live in Cypress, CA. We were on the phone at the time. She was on her cell phone, and I mentioned seeing a strange light in the sky. We were amazed to be seeing the same thing!

Mary McKinney,
Cypress, CA

We had a great chance to see it, as the skies were quite clean and we had a Friday evening party to attend in a large west-facing parking lot near the 210 Freeway.

Son Brian said "There it is!" and there it was, heading south, with a bright white tail. It passed Venus and seemed aimed for the sliver of moon. We saw two grains of rice fall off (boosters?) and shortly after, a bloom of white (further ignition). The cone of white became a circle, and missile seemed to stay put. That I'm guessing was a turn to the west.

It's always a bit disappointing when the flame dies...

We stayed outside for quite a while enjoying the party and occasionally looked up to the slow transformation and spectrum of the higher part of the trail. Very Good Show.

Some in the crowd were JPL folk who were not quite as jazzed as I, but satisfied, nonetheless.

Dave Cuatt
Pasadena, CA

Got home from work, grabbed my camcorder, and ran outside just in time to video the MM II launch. From my front yard in Long Beach, I could see the SRB's falling away while the "target" continued to climb on its way to Kwajalein. Another really good show from what is reported to be a successful test. I can't wait for the next one 3 months down the road.

Steve Harte
Long Beach, CA

February 11, 2002
Time: 9:43:44 AM
A Delta II carrying five replacement Iridium satellites.
The 5-second launch window was typical for an Iridium mission. It makes it easy for us to watch!
The launch was delayed from Friday, February 8, by a wind gust! (Good thing, too. A solid cloud cover would have prevented the ability to view the launch from here in San Diego.)
Delayed a second time, from 2/9, due to a problem with tracking aircraft.
And yet again, from 2/10, due to a fuel sensor problem

As usual, from San Diego you could see the vehicle starting at around 30 seconds into the air-lit SRB burn (around 1:30 into the flight). The sky was too hazy to follow the launch once the SRBs were jettisoned, at a little after 2 minutes into the flight.

Saw it from work in Palmdale...less than spectacular albeit a successful mission. Hooray for a good mission and for Iridium!

Steve Harte
Delta climbs into the sky. (Copyright 2001 by Ron Röhrenbacher)
Delta climbs into the sky. (Copyright 2001 by Ron Röhrenbacher)

December 7, 2001
Time: 7:07:35 AM

Wind distorts Delta's exhaust trail. (Copyright 2001 by Ron Röhrenbacher)
Wind distorts Delta's exhaust trail. (Copyright 2001 by Ron Röhrenbacher)
A Delta II launcher orbited two scientific satellites: JASON, carrying oceanographic instruments; and TIMED, carrying atmospheric instruments.

The launch was visible from San Diego, for about 30 seconds, while the air-lit solid rocket boosters were still running. After solid boosters were exhausted and jettisoned, the vehicle disappeared in the morning sky.

We drove out to the Dunes of Pismo Beach for our launch viewing pleasure. It was an absolutely beautiful morning with an offshore breeze blowing the mist back over the incoming breakers as 100's of pelicans surfed the air being pushed up by the waves as they made there way North up the coast. The Delta sat atop a bright flame which was followed by a smoke column that started off semi-orange then white as the direct sunlight hit it then almost a blue as it made its way towards space. I could clearly see all 6 ground lit SRB's tumble in symphony back down towards the ocean (I would love to get my hands on one of those!). I was able to track her for quite sometime after MECO with my binoculars due to the crystal clear air conditions. Very well done <golf clap>.

Todd Walker, Grover Beach

First things first, if you decide to spend the evening in Lompoc the night before a launch - MAKE RESERVATIONS - I'm glad I did. The place was packed. Most hotels had flyers in their lobbies.

The weather was absolutely beautiful. I found a spot on the North side of the base that you could see the launch pad with a nicely lit half Moon above it. The Delta was visible poised for launch through binoculars. A matter of minutes before the launch I could hear announcements being made over the PA system. And then I heard the countdown very clearly. The Delta rose with a brilliant orange flame. You could see the ejection of the strap-on-booster with the naked eye. As they tumbled away, the sunlight flickered off the fuselage all the way down. Due to the breeze and the angle of the Sun there wasn't much color in the contrail being that close. But it did provide for some great patterns to watch. All in all it was a great day to watch a launch.

Ron Röhrenbacher, Pomona

There was a clean clear view of the Delta Launch, while driving west on Pasadena's Washington Boulevard. I saw a fast climbing contrail curving southerly. At the top of the arc, contrail disappeared. Thanks again for the advance notice.

Dave Cuatt, Pasadena

I went outside with my brother, Brian, at 7:05 AM, and we awaited the 7:07:35 AM launch of the Delta II rocket. At 7:08:00 AM exactly, my brother spotted the rocket contrail. The flame was visible from here in Ontario, California!!! The rocket was easily visible as it made its way southward. After the contrail stopped moving, we had figured out that the Delta Rocket has lost all of its SRB's and remained burning its first stage engine... We got back inside and our mom was watching the news of the live launch, and just to think we saw that exact launch from here, that was on the TV close up. Truly amazing!!!!!
Kevin and Brian Martin, Ontario

November 7, 2001
Time: 12:15 AM
Minuteman III missile on a flight readiness test mission (designation GT-176GM).
Launch at approx. 12:15 AM. Saw what appeared to be four stages.
Dave (Central Valley)
October 18, 2001
Time: 11:51:26 AM
A Delta II launcher carrying a high resolution commercial imaging satellite, QuickBird-2.

Delta II launch, (c) 2001, Ron Röhrenbacher Delta II launch exhaust trail, (c) 2001, Ron Röhrenbacher
When I arrived in the area the coast around the base had thick clouds and fog. I headed north and stopped across the street from the tracking station which had clear skies. The Delta appeared in the South out of the clouds with a brilliant orange flame. During the early stage of the flight it was clear enough to see the Delta body itself. It maintained an almost vertical flight into to a slow turn and disappeared from sight. About 5 to 10 minutes afterwards parts of the exhaust trail began to glow with gentle radiance of blue.
Ron Röhrenbacher

Just got home, was at Jalama Thursday! GREAT LAUNCH! Clear sky, good view, nice sound. I could see the boosters drop off (with glasses). Thanks SO much!
Dave Davis

October 4, 2001
Time: 2:21 PM
A Titan IV which probably carried a classified optical surveillance satellite.

We parked near the South Gate to Vandenberg on Union Sugar Road in a spot where we could see the top of the tower on the pad, probably less than two miles from the rocket. The thin cloud layer only allowed us to see a few seconds of the launch, but we didn't complain at all. It was cool to see the rocket punch through the cloud and the flame slowly follow it through then the clouds and smoke swirling down afterwards. The shadow from the smoke plume left a shadow trail on the clouds we could follow right over our heads then curving South. The sound was absolutely incredible, everything was shaking and bouncing for quite sometime. Somebody nearby said "That was definitely worth the 3 hour drive".
Todd Walker, Pismo Beach

I went outside at AF plant 42 in Palmdale just in time to see a stunning launch of the Titan IV. Even from perhaps 80 miles away as the crow flies I could see a brilliant orange flame and smoke contrail for perhaps 1 1/2 minutes. Even a worker in from Florida who has seen many launches before was entertained. "A really good show.."
I only wish I was closer.
Steve Harte

Wow! Pasadena skies were a bit hazy, but clear enough to see a contrail rise f-a-s-t, and what might have been stage separation. good fun. Dave Cuatt

I wasn't even gonna go out to try and see it under hazy skies from here in Riverside California. But I got my binoculars anyway and went out front 1 minute before launch. The launch happened and I looked and waited for a few seconds to see it. Nothing at all. After about 1 min 30 sec I saw it! It was visible for about 15-20 more seconds and the flame was visible (BRIGHT orange). Then the flame turned reddish in color and disappeared, leaving the exhaust trail Behind. WOW I couldnt believe I would see it from here!
Kevin Martin

September 21, 2001
Time: 11:49:30 AM
A Taurus failed to launch a commercial imaging satellite (Orbview-4), a scientific satellite carrying an ozone mapping instrument, and some cannisters of cremated human remains (at $5,300 per lipstick-sized container). A deviation from nominal trajectory occurred at the first staging, and this appears to have consumed too much energy for the payloads to achieve orbit.

The launch was not visible from San Diego. Taurus is a relatively small and fast-moving vehicle, and the noon-time lighting was not ideal for best visibility.

Not visible from Pasadena: Haze interference.
Dave Cuatt

Tried to see the Launch From Riverside at school but didnt happen due to hazy skies. On the other hand My Friend In The San Gabriel Mountains called me to say he saw the rocket probably at 2nd stage under binoculars. Note:He said it was a very small Target though but still was cool to see.
Kevin Martin

My love and I went to the parking lot at Pirates Cove to watch the launch. After the second stage went, we noticed the contrail curved downward as if the rocket was trying to correct its path. An Orbital employee called it 'hypersonic stunt flying'. Now the officials say the launch was a complete failure and the satellites probably burned up before making a complete orbit (along with the human remains that were onboard)
Todd Walker, Pismo Beach

September 8, 2001
Time: 8:25 AM
An Atlas IIAS launch vehicle, with a recon payload.

We left Riverside for the Santa Ynez Mountains at 4:45am PDT. At around 8:00am we arrived at the Peak of the Santa Ynez Mountains where we met Brian Webb and a few other observers. At around 8:10am we anxiously awaited the lift off of the Atlas 2A Rocket looking West-Southwest. Launch occured exactly 1 minute after the actual scheduled time, but not until 15 seconds after launch did we see the Rocket expose itself upon the tops of the thick layered fog below. At T+65 seconds, second stage of the Atlas Rocket burst into a bright orange flame 2 times brighter and larger than the ground boosters heading southward. When the air-lit solid boosters burned out, the trail from the liquid fuel engines was more diffuse and no flame was visible. After the vapor trail, the Atlas 2A Rocket had dissapeared, we lost sight of it due to the height and distance of the rocket as it soared behind the thick blue layer of the Atmosphere. 5 minutes after we lost sight of it, you could hear the rocket's sound wave as it broke though the sound barrier, making a thunderous noise for about 20 seconds followed by the roar of the engines. After that, we packed up and went for home. A real great sight it was!

Wishing you all clear skies!
Brian and Kevin Martin
Riverside, California

About this mornings launch: I couldn't see a thing from the central valley -- too much smog and smoke from all of the fires burning throughout the State.


July 27, 2001
Time: 1:01 AM
A Peacekeeper missile on a flight readiness test mission (designation, GT-30-PA).

Regarding the Peacekeeper MX launch on Friday morning. Me and a few friends decided to go out to an abandoned missile tracking station we found near the base and watch the launch from there. (This site gives a great direct view of a lot of launch complexes, not the northern ones however.) The weather was very foggy so we couldnt see much of anything-- it was also very, very dark. However, the signature roar of a Peacekeeper was enticing enough to get us to stay around for the launch. As we sat around talking EVERYTHING lit up at once. I guess fog difuses light well because we couldnt tell where the orangish glow was coming from. I wish I had brought a video camera because the effect was very cool. Not only was the entire sky glowing in complete silence, but the solid motor produced a flickering/fading glow giving the effect of a distant sun slowly flickering away to darkness. As the light dimmed we heard the thump of the missle being ejected and its roar to life as the sound waves eventually reached us. Even though we didnt actually see the missile, the entire sky uniformly lighting up then slowly dying away over the course of a minute was very, very cool. The odd weather conditions we get around here always make launches unpredictable and visually exciting (I still love the last 3 missile defense tests, they've all been spectacular in one way or another).

Steve Arriola

After watching a concert at the Mid State Fair, my soul-mate and I were trying to decide whether to watch the launch from Cuesta Grade or go to Guadalupe Dunes and risk a fog layer. We made the decision to go to the dunes to get the best of the 'Audio' portion of the show. When we got there, we found ourselves covered in a fog layer about 100 feet above our heads. Not knowing what to expect visually we took our place in front of our vehicle and waited less than a minute before we noticed some overall brightness to the previously pitch-black area. Suddenly it was daytime as the light from the very-bright Peacekeeper refracted through the entire fog bank from horizon to horizon. At first I was in shock, something didn't seem right as it was just too bright. I looked around and noticed all the crops, some cows, my honey's beautiful face in a look of total bewilderment and for a couple of seconds I thought this was it, the world was coming to an end, the missile goofed and was going to kill us dead. The cows had the same feeling as they were all giving off general distress moos to one another. After about 6 seconds of this phenomenon the light began to flicker out just as a loud 'POOF' was heard as if somebody popped a cork off a giant champagne bottle (the steam powered launch phase of the Peacekeeper out of the silo) and then main engine start and the rumbling from hell begins (it just never gets old!!). Several savory seconds of bone-jarring rumble are thoroughly enjoyed. As the rumbling resides slightly, the sky turns to day again as the second stage gets going and is followed several seconds later by more determined rumbling. After all was silent for a moment, the third stage starts up and another few seconds of further rumblings are soaked in. Although we never saw the flame or the missile itself, the visual phase of this launch was a definite bonus surprise. I could only imagine what it would of looked like from the grade high above the fog layer.

Todd Walker, Pismo Beach CA

Hi I live in Riverside, California and we headed out to see the Peacekeeper missile launch at 7:45 PM.Our target was the Santa Ynez Mts. At 11:00 PM, we got to the base of the mountains on Refugio Road. We countinued up the mountain until we came across an observatory. The gate was closed, but we opened it not knowing what was up the road. We proceeded 500 feet and discovered an observatory. We parked our car at the observatory gates and waited for the launch. We had 1 hour left. I had no idea that the observatory served Vandenberg Air Force Base until I heard the 2 of them talking on a loud radio inside the observatory. The voice said 5,4,3,2,1 mark T-60 min. At 1:00:30 AM we got very excited hearing the countdown of 30 seconds. At 5,4,3,2,1 Liftoff.In the distance we saw the fog light up like a small sunrise. 7 seconds later the missile came through the fog layer with a bright white flame. It was beautiful! Then at T+40 seconds, the missile shut off its engine. I knew something was wrong because, 2 minutes later I saw the missile hit the ocean and a giant flash when it hit appeared. After that, we headed home and we will be back up there on Aug 21 for the Taurus Launch. Anyone care to join us?

Kevin Martin, Riverside

July 14, 2001
Time: 7:40 PM

A Minuteman II missile lobbing a dummy warhead and decoys toward Kwajalein Atoll, in a test of a National Missile Defense ground-launched kinetic kill system.

The launch took place at around sunset, leaving a nice exhaust trail, colored by the diffraction of sunlight through ice crystallized on the rocket exhaust particulates.

Just wanted to take a minute to thank you for keeping us posted about these delightful happenings. My husband and I are senior citizens who own/operate a motel in Lucerne Valley, California -- in the high desert between Apple Valley and Big Bear resorts. We get too busy to sit in a chair and watch for a 3-4 hour span, but about 9:05 p.m. my husband spotted the beautiful coloring in the sky, and called me to hurry outside. We took our cordless phone with us and phoned our son and family, who live nearby, and some other neighbors. You're right. It is a spectacular sight. Thank you.

Pat and Don

Ron Röhrenbacher took this photo of the exhaust trail, from Pomona, CA
Ron Röhrenbacher's photo of the Minuteman's rainbow exhaust trail

February 7, 2001
12:01 AM
A Minuteman III missile on a flight readiness test mission.
November 21, 2000
10:24 AM
A Delta-II carrying a scientific satellite consisting of various experimental and earth resources packages (EO-1/SAC-C/Citizen Explorer/Munin). This satellite was placed in the same orbit as Landsat 7, very nearby. The idea is to correlate data between the two platforms.
September 28, 2000
1:01 AM
TWO Minuteman III missiles.

My sweetie and I packed up the truck and headed for Guadalupe Dunes from Paso Robles at 11:30 pm and arrived in my favorite pitch-black vegetable patch at 12:45 am located 2 or 3 miles from the actual launch silos. The weather was absolutely ideal, with only a thin band of stratocumulus clouds hanging over the hills between us and the launch site. It was a touch cold but the heat from my engine made the hood a perfect place to sit back and enjoy the show. After hearing reports on the news and such, I didn't expect them both to go off at the same time as they stated there should be a couple of hours between the two launches. I believe the first missile was from a silo in Montana and the second from a silo in Wyoming.

1:01 am happens.... The layer of strato lights up beautifully as the initial flame that proceeds the missile's exit from the silo blasts out of the hole. 2 seconds later as the Minuteman III traversed through the cloud layer you could make out shadows from clouds closer to the missile move from top to bottom on clouds closer to us.... it was totally breathtaking and I had already got my moneys worth without even seeing a lick of flame. The moment before the flame became visible, I looked around real quick and noticed how bright everything was and realized it was just like watching a sunrise in fast motion. Then the flame appeared and both her and I gasped and held our breaths. It seemed much brighter than the Minuteman II back in July and I swear I could feel heat from it similar to the heat you feel when you're at a rock concert and the pyrotechnic guy pushes the "side-stage explosions" button. As the flame went from intensely bright yellow to a more oxygen deprived orange moments later, the familiar rumble started up and gathered strength for a few glorious seconds of missile addict bliss. At it's peak, it sounded like sustained thunder from a lightning blast directly overhead. Separation comes with a puff of sparks and debris and the familiar tumbling-blinking first-stage falls to the ocean nearby (I'm starting to think there is a light attached to this for either recovery or safety). The sound subsides after stage 3 fires up and accelerates the hopefully dummy-warhead to its Mach 23 cruising speed (I wonder who's in charge of making sure it's a dummy?). An unseen cow moos her launch approval and we both commence breathing again. No spectacular plume as you predicted but that didn't matter that much after that show.

We slid off the hood, hugged and headed home full of adrenaline and set a date to watch the Delta II together in November (this girl is a dream come true!!!).

We get home at 2:30 and decided we would go outside at 3:01 am to see if #2 goes up. Sure enough, we both see the sky light up and seconds later get the show again from 69 miles away. The missile seemed much faster this time since we were viewing the trajectory from a perpendicular perspective.

Gawd I love this stuff!!! MORE MORE MORE!!!!

Todd Walker
Paso Robles, CA

Richard Steinhart's photo from just outside VAFB


August 17, 2000
4:45 PM


Titan-IV launch captured by Brian Murphy on a Nikon Coolpix 800

A Titan IV. The Titan IV is the largest booster that flies out of Vandenberg. It usually carries an optical or electronic signal reconnaisance payload to a near-polar orbit.

While flying on its solid rocket boosters, the Titan IV is easily viewed from a very long distance. I was easily able to watch this launch from my home in San Diego, for the last 30 seconds of the first stage burn. Initially, all I saw was a white exhaust trail emerging from behind my neighbor's house. As the vehicle climbed into thinner atmosphere, the exhaust trail began to expand and thin out, and the glowing exhaust flames grew brighter and brighter. Then the flame and exhaust faded, and the boosters were jettisoned. I was surprised to find that I could see linear flashes as the boosters tumbled. At first I thought this must be the sun reflecting off the boosters. Now I realize that it must have been very long residual flame jets from the engines (two reasons: first, those boosters are too far away for me to see them as anything but points; second, if these were sunlight reflections, I would have been able to see them much of the way to the ground -- instead, they faded and quickly disappeared).
Nice launch!


From Pasadena City College, it was a bit difficult to take looking into a very bright western haze. Still, it was a thrill to see the launch. Viewing party consisted of myself and the honorable Douglas Haines, also of this fine institution.

Dave Cuatt

Clouded out in Phoenix, AZ, but phone talked a daughter to a successful sighting from Redlands, CA. She spotted it about 30-40 sec's before it vanished. She did note a flash or flare at the end of her viewing.


Hey Russ.... Out here in the Nevada desert, the Titan IV vapor trail made the western evening skies look like the inside of an abalony shell with it's pink, rose, peach, teal, mint, and creamy white blend of pearl against the firery sunset background. It was breath taking and beautiful!

Steve in Las Vegas

July 19, 2000
1:09 PM
A OSP SLV-2 (aka Minotaur). This was a Minuteman II with Pegasus upper stages. The vehicle carried MightySat II, an engineering test satellite from the Air Force Research Lab.

Once again, I wasn't able to see anything of the launch from here in San Diego.

Just witnessed the launch from the upstairs patio at work in Santa Barbara. Very clear shot with stage separation visible. I live in Lompoc and wished I had been at home today. Looking forward to the next one!

Jim Wilson
Bingo! I located myself on high ground in Apple Valley. Right on schedule the vapor trail of the minotaur appeared as a thin pencil mark. I was a bit surprised how soon the trail discontinued. I had thought it would show a long way up. There was no sign of the flame from my vantage point. Also there was no sight of the rocket itself. But then at 200 miles I didn`t expect to see that.

Kurt Kuhlmann took this photo from the Lompoc Airport. Yes, the Minotaur is that tiny, bright dot at the top right, climbing out of the low clouds that covered Vandenberg. Minotaur launch. © 2000 by Kurt Kuhlmann.  Taken from Lompoc airport.
July 7, 2000
7:01 PM - 11:01 PM
A Minuteman II. This launch lofted another target for the proposed National Missile Defense system. It launched after sunset, and provided a spectacular view (photos as soon as somebody contributes them).

What it didn't provide was warm fuzzies for the NMD folks. The Minuteman did its job just fine, but the "kill vehicle" failed to separate from its booster (launched from the Marshall Islands). This NMD design is currently batting 1 for 3 (and there are some questions about how well it performed on that first "successful" test).

Early sequence visible from Phoenix, AZ. Later portions cloud obscured but eerie glow behind same.. Manually tracked with 8" LX200 for about 40 sec's. Must have been SUPER from some sites.

Robin Wier

Hey I just wanted to write in and tell you what my observations of the missile launch this evening were.

I had just gotten off delivering pizzas and was filling up my car in Santa Maria at Betteravia and Broadway. I was inside paying when I heard a deep rumbling. I walked outside and saw everyone staring up into the sky. From the gas station the missile was very visible, about 45 degrees off the horizon. The first stage had just come off and could be seen flashing as it fell. A white cloud about 3x larger than the rocket began forming, it was quite bright. All of the sudden a bright, white, perfectly symetrical "X" quickly expanded from the missile. Everyone at the gas station gasped as the white "X" cloud quickly filled the sky. The cloud had started about 50 degrees off the horizon and within 5-8 seconds had expanded so as its lower portions were about 15 degrees off the horizon. A green light emerged as soon as the "X" faded and slowly expanded and brightened. It was plainly visible in the sky for the next 10-15 minutes.

From a brightly lit gas station on a main road this launch was SPECTACULAR! I have never seen anything like it in my history of watching launches (I was there for the first test that left the rainbow cloud). I would have to say, by far, this is the most amazing event I have seen in this area. I can only imagine what it looked like from a rural area. I hope someone has a video or photograph of this launch.


I saw it from Santa Barbara around 9:15pm. Was sitting out on a friend's patio, glanced up and saw what looked like a huge glowing star with a massive radiant halo. We moved to another part of the garden for a better view between nearby trees, and by the time I looked up again, it had transformed into a lovely luminescent turquoise cloud. After some minutes, I could see a small dark purple shadow at the very bottom. The colors lasted a *long* time. Spectacular light show.

Didn't have my tripod with me, but Saturday morning's News Press had a nice front page shot with the Mission in the foreground. (

Best regards, Anita

A co-worker and I drove down to Guadalupe Dunes after work to view the Minuteman II launch. We parked next to some savvy missile people who had a scanner that could pick up the launch command radio frequency (did not think that would be possible). At initial launch time when nothing happened, one stuck his head out the window and said 'Not until at least 21:00'. So we went into Guadalupe and ate some excellent Mexican food. As it turns out they ate there too and updated us with 'We're a go for 21:17'. So we drove out to some fields located just over the hill and North from the launch pad, we're talking really close. It was very dark without any interference from lights whatsoever. The only light was from some sort of high-tech military searchlight attached to a Huey flying 1000's of feet above our area. It was very strange, there was no real sign of a search light except for the spot it illuminated (not the usual cone shape light beam you see with police choppers). More than a couple of times the light was on us, and even though they were so high up, I know they could see the split ends on my hair somehow.

A puffy layer of fog had been hugging the top of the hill between the launch pad and us all afternoon. As we sat and discussed quantum physics (or was it girls?), the entire fog cloud lit up from end to end instantaneously. We looked like keystone cops trying to exit the vehicle. Injuries would be delt with later, so we settled to the hood and beheld the almighty Minuteman II rise above the earth atop its brilliantly bright flame. A few moments later, the roar began and then became intensely loud and shook every bone in my body (can you say adrenaline). Separation was a sight to see and I counted at least 6 separate pieces of red hot debris spinning/dropping/shooting away from the launch trajectory, the main piece remaining visible for quite some time as it headed for the ocean a mile or two from where we were. As the upper stage fired up, at least 25% of the entire sky above us was quickly engulfed in what looked like a shock wave from some sort of nuclear explosion. In the middle of the blast were 4 equal and rapidly expanding white lines forming an X that marked the spot of the rocket. A few moments after that a blue-green bubble-like cloud could be seen floating slowly away from the plume. The bubble seemed to emit its own light and as it covered the 1/2 moon, the whole area looked a little weird.

Then I notice that the helicopter was still up there and almost right next to the launch trail! Those poor slobs, who were actually getting paid to watch this, had the best seats possible!


Brian Webb had a sequence of photos that show what the launch looked like, starting from when the vehicle reached the sunset line, then climbing into full sunlight, and finally, as the sunlit exhaust cloud dissipated.

Minuteman II climbs into the sunlight.  Copyright 2000 by Roy Moffett.Here a ia picture of the launch on July 7th. It was taken about 30 miles East of the Launch Site or 15 miles East of Santa Maria, with my digital camera.

Roy Moffett

Post-launch exhaust cloud and afterglow.  Copyright 2000 by Patrick McGeehan. Post-launch exhaust cloud and afterglow.  Copyright 2000 by Patrick McGeehan.Patrick McGeehan took these interesting shots, using an infrared-sensitive camera, from the Studio City area. They seem to show a diffuse white exhaust cloud, illuminated by the sun, along with a more focused bluish conical trail. We don't know whether this trail is caused by ionization glow, chemical reactions, or reflection off exhaust products. Images are © 2000 by Patrick McGeehan.

June 9, 2000
1:01:00 AM - 7:01 AM
Minuteman III. A readiness test aka "Glory Mission", designation GT-172-GM. The target was the Pacific ocean somewhere near Kwajalein Atoll.
June 7, 2000
6:19 AM
Pegasus XL. The payload (TSX-5) incorporated instruments and experiments from several Department of Defense groups.
Views of the launch were obscured by "June Gloom" morning cloud cover for much of the California coast.
May 28, 2000
1:00:00 PM
Minuteman II/OSP-TLV-DEMO. This is a modified Minuteman II with a payload section built by Orbital Sciences Corp. It was a suborbital flight to Kwajalein Atoll, simulating another National Missile Defense target mission.
These photos (right) were contributed by Richard Steinhart

In Grover Beach, on a gorgeous day with a deep blue sky, the whole southwestern sky was filled with rocket trail. I wasn;t paying attention when the house started to shake and I heard the roar, I looked out the back and it looked as though it had taken off from the nearby beach instead of 16 miles away (did they moved the Minuteman launchpad to Oceano Dunes when I wasn't looking?).
..............JIM DREBERT

TLV-DEMO launch on May 10, 2000.  Copyright 2000 by Richard Steinhart.

TLV-DEMO launch on May 10, 2000.  Copyright 2000 by Richard Steinhart.
May 24, 2000
1:01:00 AM ?
Minuteman III. Flight Test to Kwajalein Atoll, mission designation FTM-02.
March 25, 2000
time 12:34:43 PM
A Delta II launched NASA's IMAGE scientific satellite.

At launch time, it was too cloudy to watch from San Diego. Any other reports?

March 12, 2000
time 1:29 AM
A Taurus Carrying the DOE's MTI (MULTI-SPECTRAL THERMAL IMAGER). This launch had been delayed because the government of Tahiti was concerned about safety problems. The Taurus is an all-solid-fuel vehicle. Night launches tend not to be particularly visible from long distances, since you can only rely on seeing the exhaust "flame", which is a relatively tiny target. Nevertheless, it can make for a very nice time-lapse photo (see Brian Webb's photographs of the December 20, 1999 launch).

For a QuickTime video of the launch, see Spaceflight Now's web site

January 26, 2000
7:03 PM
A OSP/SLV-1 Minotaur launching JAWSAT, set of small research satellites from Arizona State University, Stanford University, Weber State University, the Air Force, and NASA.

What is a Minotaur? It's a mongrel launch vehicle. Strip Pegasus' wings, stack it on top of the first two stages of a Minuteman II, and you have a vehicle that can be used for lofting medium size payloads into a suborbital trajectory, or small payloads into a low orbit.

Indoor viewers followed the launch via the JAWSAT Webcast web site.

From Laguna Beach we watched what looked more like a slow meteor with a wide tail fly across the sky and disappear going almost due South.

John Bing

We spotted it low in the Southwest horizon. It was a very bright white light followed by a large white exhaust fantail. At one point it flared up even brighter if it had staged and then left view.

Ron Röhrenbacher
Pomona, CA

Too many clouds in central valley. Sky completely covered.

Dave Close

Bright ground illumination at Pasadena City College spoiled most of the fun, but eight students and I took a break from class at 7:01, stepped outside and saw the yellow flare climb up, coast southward and fade out. Pretty good show anyway, which I promoted as "Free Fireworks"

Dave Cuatt

January 18, 2000
6:21 PM
A Minuteman II ICBM carried another dummy warhead in a one-way trip to space, in another test of the ground-based interceptor ABM system. This was a repeat of the October 2, 1999 test. This launch took place around an hour after sunset (around 20 minutes later than scheduled). (By the way, this "one-way" trip ended up being TWO-way: the interceptor missed!)

It was visible, and pretty, but not as amazing as the one in Oct.1/18/00 M-II launch. 8-second exposure by Andrew Macpherson

It was a bright glowing star, like a big spotlight in the sky, from here in LA. It was surrounded by a mist, which looked more like a large iridium flare on the high clouds we had here. It was only visible for a few seconds, but I clearly saw the last stage split, as if I was looking right up its tailpipe. It went from a bright pinpoint 'star' to a four petal formation, then slowly faded out, leaving just a slightly bluish haze, barely visible after two minutes.

Andrew Macpherson

I saw it. I live on the beach in San Clemente and saw it through the thin low clouds up until it was about 35-40 degrees off of the horizon. Basically looked like a moving bright star with a large inverted v-shaped glow behind it. Kinda looked like Hale Bopp going up instead of sideways. It disappeared behind the thicker, higher clouds about 30 seconds after I noticed it.

Dave Fyffe

I was out at Simpson Park in Hemet, on a bike ride. It was pitch-black out there.

We were just carrying our bikes over a gate (probably designed to keep mountain bikers out of Simpson Park at night ;-) when I noticed the white light through the thin, high clouds.

I couldn't see the plume through the clouds, but the light show was very cool while it lasted.

Adam Ince

I didn't even think any more about the launch tonight because of the overcast and rain. I was surprised to be jolted from my chair at 6:20 by the roar of the rocket. But I looked out and saw nothing


The launch was visible from Huntington Beach, CA (Orange County) I saw a plainly visible, bright, upside down V. It was visible for approximately 90 seconds. There was a lot of moisture in the air so it wasn't very clear. It climbed and just faded out. There was no evident stage separation visible. It seems amazing that there aren't launches on nice, crystal clear nights. Maybe someday. Thanks again.


We had a great view last night from Lancaster! Sky was hazy, but mostly clear. Could see the very bright exhaust like a miniature "sun" in the sky, surrounded by the usual plume behind it.

Robert Comperini

December 20, 1999
11:07:00 PM - 11:24 PM
A Taurus vehicle lifted KOMPSAT, a Korean engineering test satellite, to orbit.

Listening to the TV news, I learned that this launch also carried "cremains" into orbit. It's a way for you to posthumously get into space for a few thousand dollars. Some of your ashes are packed into a "lipstick-sized container", and included in a canister that remains in orbit. I have a hard time seeing the point of this, but what the heck?

Was watching the news tonight and was reminded that KOMPSAT was lifting off tonight. Watched the countdown on TV, then raced out to the edge of my condo complex in North Hollywood to see the rocket and its point of twinkling bright orange light rising above the treetops due west from where I was standing. Just as I caught view of it, chunks of light, one or two, fell from the rear of the rocket (stage sep, I don't know?). Arcing to the southwest, the rocket left a very faint smoke trail, almost invisible. Half way through the visible portion of its flight, the light dimmed almost to disappearance a few times within a few seconds, and then brightened again, leaving behind a more visible puff of smoke at that point. A few moments later the light disappeared in the night sky.

Christopher Watson
North Hollywood

Spectacular show from my backyard in Lompoc last night. The Taurus rocket illuminated the clear night like a giant flare. The show lasted for a long time. This was a smaller vehicle, but a nice fire show for everyone to watch. You could even clearly see the separation sequence.

Ken Wilson
Lompoc, CA


Sitting in the back yard in Pasadena and a great view. Quite bright yellow/orange flame, a stage falling off as burning confetti, soft moonlit exhaust trail.

Nice one, lots of fun.

Dave Cuatt
Brian Webb supplied these shots of the launch. The first and second stages' flight are captured in the first image. The second image is of the third stage burn. The photos were taken from Thousand Oaks, California, 169 km (105 miles) southeast of the launch pad. Images are copyright 1999 by Brian Webb. Used with permission. Taurus launch, 1st & 2nd stages. Copyright 1999 by Brian Webb.
Taurus launch, 1st & 2nd stages.
Taurus launch, 3rd stage. Copyright 1999 by Brian Webb.
Taurus launch, 3rd stage.
December 18, 1999
10:58 AM
An Atlas IIAS launched a satellite in the Earth Observation Satellite program, called Terra, into a sun-synchronous orbit. This means that the satellite's nearly polar orbit precesses at the same rate as Earth progresses in its orbit. Essentially, it always sees any latitude under the same lighting conditions.

A number of picosatellites are released into orbit on this flight. You can learn more about these student-designed picosatellites by reading this EDTN article.

The Atlas is one of the oldest booster designs in operation. It's got a liquid-fuel core, and four solid fuel strap-on boosters.

Too many clouds in our area of the Central valley.
Didn't see much.

Dave Close

I am writing from Oak View, which is between Ojai and Ventura, CA. We just watched Terra lift off into the big blue sky.

It went up with a huge flame and white smoke trailing behind it, then it seemed to arc towards the ocean and disappeared behind some clouds.

We have a great view from our backyard because we live up in the hills and when looking towards Vandenberg there isn't anything in the way, just beautiful Lake Casitas down below in the valley.

Thanks for keeping us up to date!

Dean and Maria

December 12, 1999
9:38 AM
A Titan II, launching a DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) weather satellite.

From Dave Vosburg:

Here are a few pictures from this mornings Titan II launch. This was one of the clearest days that I have seen at VAFB. One of the files is an .MPG file but it is only about 5 seconds long and didn't get the vehicle leaving the pad....
copyright 1999 by David Vosburg
Titan II/DMSP on the pad, ready to go
copyright 1999 by David Vosburg
copyright 1999 by David Vosburg
Climbing out
copyright 1999 by David Vosburg
The vehicle starts developing a contrail
copyright 1999 by David Vosburg
Transiting the upper atmosphere
copyright 1999 by David Vosburg
Second stage ignition (video frame capture)

I did see the launch this morning. Nothing to write home about. White smoke trail from what must have been SRB's. After they stopped nothing was seen of the Titan--no flame or exhaust trail.

Dave Close
Central Valley
November 13, 1999
12:19 AM
A Minuteman III ICBM: This mission was designated FTM-01.
Sure wish I knew the staging sequence! I did see two flashes of light at approx 12:23 at the end of its observable flight path down range. Don't know if they were from an upper stage or from the payload.

Dave Close
Central Valley
I was just getting ready for bed when I heard a rumble at 12:20 A.M.. I had temporarily forgotten about the launch, but when it increased in intensity and the house began shaking, I remembered.

I ran to the window but saw nothing but London fog; The thickest it's been around here.
..........................JIM DREBERT
October 2, 1999 7:01 PM
Rainbow trail left by the 10/2/99 M-II launch (photo by Dave Vosburg)
A Minuteman II
This launch was a test of an ICBM defense system. The Minuteman carried a dummy warhead (and at least one inflated decoy). An interceptor missile was launched from the Marshall Islands about 20 minutes later, and impacted the warhead 140 miles above the Pacific.

Although the launch trajectory was to the west, this launch was spectacularly visible at least as far as San Diego. The vehicle climbed into the sunlight and its exhaust trail lit up bright white. As it climbed above the atmosphere, even though it was hundreds of miles away, the expansion rate of the exhaust was amazingly apparent, especially at staging.

We have reports of spectacular views from as far away as Las Vegas and Tucson!

Click here for more complete coverage of this launch, including photos and video clips.

Very nice---very pretty---very illuminated and right on time.
Will be on everyone's "News at Eleven".
Someone should get great pictures out of this.

Dave Close
Central valley of Ca.

It was visible from Las Vegas....until I fell from my vantage point on a two foot wall :-) Broke my cheapo bino's. From what I could see it was very bright white with some blue above. It was very low, behind a house so I could not see very well.
Vic Panegasser
36 03n 115 03w

I was told it was on national tv. I walked down to Santa Monica Pier (LA area) to watch. Start was obscured by marine layer, but it quickly climbed out. Many people on pier had XLNT view. Nice colors for about 20 minutes. Also, some people came out of a sports bar, USC game onTV, said they had seen it on the TV.
Thanks 10.02.99 20:01
Indeed it was great from here in LA, multicolored rainbow crescents and a huge aura. It was one of the prettier launches I've see, wish I'd driven up there now!
Ahh well, next time, seems there's a lot happening at V'berg this winter luckily.

All the best,

Thanks for the heads up - we saw it very clearly here in Tucson. The cattle did too - they were totally unsettled!

'Can't wait for the next one...

WOW! That was quite the launch. Still an eerie trail brightly lit up in the clear autumn sky. Since the Marshalls are so near the equator, I suspected this Minute- man would have a bit of a southerly trajec- tory, and it did. Saw it from western Huntington Beach all the way to MECO. I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who *didn't* see this one. <G>
Neil <>
September 24, 1999 11:22 AM A Lockheed-Martin Athena II launching Space Imaging Inc.'s IKONOS commercial imaging satellite.

This was the second attempt to launch an IKONOS satellite. The first attempt was a failure. Also, you will find that, unless you can view the launch from relatively close to Vandenberg, the Athena II offers very little to see. It was completely invisible from San Diego. (A low overcast didn't help any.)

It was the same as before.
Faint smoke trail raising from the south.
Saw staging from first to number two.

Dave Close
Central valley of Ca.
Friday (morning), August 20, 19991:46 AM to 7:46 AM TWO Minuteman III ICBMs. Minuteman III launch (photo courtesy of Vandenberg AFB)

A rare opportunity to watch a double-launch. The GT-170GM mission that had been scheduled for late June was rescheduled to fly along with GT-171GM. These were guidance test missions.

Here's an eyewitness report:

The first launch of the series got off right on time. I watched it with my binoculars until 1:50 am. It was the brightest thing in the sky. Very nice bright yellow (must be lots of Na in the fuel) [I'm pretty sure it's aluminum, not sodium, in the fuel -- though ionized sodium is very yellow] flame against the black sky. You could see the glowing spent stages as they fell away. Because of the time of the launch, the smoke contrail was not illuminated and so it remained dark. I stayed up for one hour and didn't see anything of the second launch.
Dave Close
Central valley of Ca.
June 19, 1999 7:15:00 PM from SLC-4W A Titan II rocket: This refurbished 1960's era ICBM launched the QuickScat satellite, which is designed to measure atmospheric conditions over the oceans, using a radar system.

This launch was delayed since November due to the investigation of a Titan 4A failure, then because of a delay in the launch of a Titan 4B from the neighboring pad.

As expected, there wasn't much to see for viewers out of the VAFB vicinity. The Titan does not produce a very bright flame, and it only produces a faint white exhaust trail.

Launch reports:

  • Russ Schnapp: Absolutely nothing was visible from San Diego. I watched the launch on NASA TV, and at T+0:30 through T+4:00, I watched the sky. Nada. Oh, well. I got to watch the NASA TV replays from VAFB's various cameras.
  • Ron & Bryan Röhrenbacher's launch photos Ron Röhrenbacher: My son, Bryan, and I drove up to Lompoc yesterday. This was the first time we've attempted to get near the base for a launch. I was hoping to get onto the beach, but the military had the road blocked. We weren't to surprised. However the nice airman who wanted to know what were we doing there suggested we go to Vandenberg Village for a good view. It was probably just as well, the entire air base area was covered by low clouds.

    We ventured north and found a spot 15 or so miles from the launch site with no clouds obstructing our view. The Titan appeared south of us with the Sun at a good angel to the West. The Sun light reflected off the air frame making the Titan nicely visible all the way up (especially with binoculars). As you mentioned, Titans don't develop a bright flame from the first stage. The contrail was white and only extended for a small portion of the flight. For some distance you could see the rocket but no exhaust. As it started to angle south a bright orange plume developed with a large puff of black smoke from the second stage (that was probably the best part). This lasted a few moments and again not much of an exhaust trail.

    Afterwards when Bryan I were talking we summarized that with so little exhaust visible we probably wouldn't have seen it from home. On our way back I called my wife back in Pomona. She said about 7:23 she heard a roar overhead, however she couldn't find anything in the sky.
  • Dave Vosburg: Went out to VAFB to watch, but the fog had started to come in and we only got to see about the first 3 seconds of the liftoff. Probably would have seen more from home (Santa Maria) but the sound on this one was pretty impressive. Seemed louder than past T-II launches. Depends a lot on the atmospheric conditions. I try not to miss too many Titan launches as my wife is a launch conductor for Lockheed Martin. She has done the last two Titan II launches (including tonight) and is scheduled for the Titan IV early next year. She just got home and said that all went well. Apparently the QuickScat wasn't scheduled to separate until about 1 hour after the launch.
  • Maria T: I watched the launch from a house on a hill in Santa Barbara. It just went straight up out of the fog, with the white trail behind it, then vanished. Not as spectacular as some of the other ones I've seen from where I live, in Ventura.
  • Michael Koop: No Joy from here in San Jose, CA. We have high cirrus between us and the bird. I didn't expect to see it in the daylight, but you never know. I dont have any trouble with the Titan IV's, especially when the solids are lit! I followed the launch on the Florida Today Space Online page. They have a running commentary on the countdown. Ran outside when it indicated liftoff. Searched the horizon but couldn't find any glow from the engines, or contrail. Maybe next time.
    (Actually, I'm a little surprised that you can see any Vandenberg launches from as far north as San Jose, since the vehicles are generally flying due south! -- Russ)
  • Dave Cuatt: In Pasadena I was running an errand and was "out and about" at the launch time. From 7:16--7:18 I saw a very high (as if I can tell how high) object with a white double tail. The tail did not last, and evaporated/dispersed behind the object. It seemed to be the length of a moon diameter. The apparent direction and time were corrrect, and there were no plane contrails visible, I assume this was it. But two tails? No binoculars, so I might be mistaken. No high flying jets were visible before, during or after the launch time, so I choose to believe that the air at jet heights was not conducive to making trails, and that it was the Titan that I saw.
  • Willy K reports that it was too cloudy to see anything from Santa Monica.
  • Dr. Dave de daug: completely socked in in venice, no can see nothing and no body.....maybe next time
Check out Florida Today's Quickscat coverage, which includes several excellent photographs.
May 22, 1999sometime between 12:01 AM and 4:00 AM This was a Titan IVB rocket on a Department of Defense mission. Usually this means a "spy satellite" that goes into a high inclination orbit for global coverage. DoD announces a 4 hour launch window, and leaves it at that -- Titan IV launches do NOT necessarily happen at the opening of the launch window. It's a matter of luck (or having really good connections) to be able to watch the launch itself. And that's a crying shame, since the Titan IV is the second biggest launch vehicle made in the U.S.

By the way, I happened to come across a nice description of a Titan IV launch at a webzine. Just click on the photo to the right.

May 17, 1999 at 10:09 PM A Pegasus XL rocket: Tomographic Experiment using Radiative Recombinative Ionospheric EUV and Radio Sources (TERRIERS), a scientific satellite.
April 27, 1999 11:22 AM An Athena II rocket : A commercial launch. The payload was the (oft-delayed) Ikonos-1 CRSS (Commercial Remote Sensing System) satellite. (Athena is the new name for the Lockheed-Martin Launch Vehicle 1.) It is launched from a small corner of the huge pad named SLC-6, which was originally designed for the Space Shuttle.

Finally, after many months of delays, IKONOS-1 got off the ground!

And, here is where to learn more about the Lockheed-Martin Athena II (including photos and videos).

This was another launch that remained invisible to San Diego viewers (other than via Space Imaging's not-so-hot RealVideo from their web site). The skies were clear, but the vehicle simply did not show up. Two duds in a row...

I believe I saw it. But is that the same as knowing for sure I saw it?
Here in Pasadena there was plenty of haze in the west, and I was 3 minutes or so late in getting to the viewing area, so I saw no launch. What I saw was a very long contrail aligned North-South that drifted from the west to the east and remained up there for a long while. I believed it was very high up, but how to tell?

Dave Cuatt

I saw it.
This was from the central valley.
It appeared as a faint contrail that rose vertically from the Southern horizon.
I was standing in a parking lot at a hospital at the time!

Dave Close

April 15, 1999 11:32:00 AM A Delta II rocket: Landsat-7 satellite launch. This launch was covered on NASA-TV on your cable or satellite TV, and on the web. Unfortunately, because they launched with a more westerly azimuth (to minimize upper wind effects and debris hazards), the flight was completely invisible from San Diego. Rats!

Here is a report from Dave Cuatt:


Myself and Professor Rob Lee met at the top northwest corner of Pasadena City College's "R" Building and fixed our sights westward. At 11:36 I impatiently said "Well, looks like it's been postponed--gasp---look! there it is!"

It had already risen a few degrees, we first noticed the white line moving up, and a study of its tip with binoculars revealed a flame. The flame rose quickly, turned left/south and levelled off. When the first stage seemed to finish its burn, we lost sight of it.

Not as impressive as a twilight launch, but impressive nonetheless, and clearly visible in spite of some haze. The white trail dissolved in a few minutes. Rob and I split a Cadbury Fruit/Nut bar instead of champagne or cigars, as the campus has a no alcohol/no smoking policy, and we neither drink nor smoke anyway.

Great launch.

Dave Cuatt

Other reports:

  • Pomona: Didn't see anything.
  • Marina del Rey: Fogged in.
  • Santa Barbara: Spectacular view.
  • Orcutt: Took this video (4M) from outside my high school (Steve "FoggyMyst" Arriola).
March 10, 1999 at 12:01 AM A Peacekeeper ICBM launch: A guidance test (designated GT-28 PA).

I stationed myself at my south-looking window, 16 miles from the Peacekeeper launch pad. The moonless sky was sparkling clear except for a few drifting clouds. These stray clouds contributed to a fantastic view at ignition time. Since the only thing that stands between me and the launchpad itself is Mount Lopez at 1640 feet on the Point Sal Ridge. So the instant illumination of the sky looked like a beautiful sunset reflecting through the clouds. This 'sunset' lasted for 15 seconds. The rocket exhaust appeared a few seconds after ignition as it angled off into the Pacific, going out of sight several times each for a split second as it passed behind several of the streaky clouds.

The other interesting thing was that after the rocket was out of my view behind trees and houses to the West, the sound finally came through. A good 2 minutes later. It was a loud rumble and my house vibrated and shook.

A friend in the S.F. bay area with whom I was talking just minutes before, went outside and saw the rocket streaking westward. He was 183 miles north as the crow flies.

It would have been more spectacular had I driven down between Guadalupe and the northern perimeter of VAFB where we viewed the Pegasus last Thursday. I don't have as much incentive to go alone and most of my friends will go once but not twice, especially at midnight. Party poopers...All in all it was a good experience

....................JIM DREBERT

Steve "FoggyMyst" Arriola took this video (1.7M) of a PeaceKeeper launch. (The date of the launch is uncertain, and he re-synchronized the audio, which actually arrived around 50 seconds after ignition.)

March 4, 1999 6:56 PM A Pegasus XL rocket: Wide-Field Infrared Explorer (WIRE) science satellite. (Pegasus rockets are launched from the belly of a modified L-1011 airliner, flying off the coast of Vandenberg.)

The launch occured around an hour after sunset. It was observed by at least three SkyLights followers.

Patrick Wright's shot of the 3/4/99 Pegasus launch Patrick Wright caught this beautiful shot on his video camera. He was probably somewhere near Mojave, California at the time.

Here's Jim Drebert's report:

I was positioned approximately 1 mile outside the northern perimeter of Vandenberg AFB and 1 mile from the beach (Rancho Guadalupe Dunes). Point Sal was southwest of us about 4 miles. We would have gone on out to the beach but it's a county park and it's closed after 5 PM. The conditions were perfect, away from the reflection of city lights, the stars shining brightly in a dark and clear sky.

We first saw the rocket NWW from our position as it was starting to climb. The news later reported that the rocket was released from the L-1011 west of Monterey. Then it disappeared for a few seconds which I suppose was the separation of the first stage. Then it went vertical SWW from us and straight west. It was lost in a huge plume of white vapor that covered a good portion of the western sky. It reminded me of looking at a comet up close. As this plume dissipated about 2 minutes later, we eventually caught sight of the rocket again which seemed to have changed directions and headed more southerly. It appeared to be going down but it must have been rounding the earth.

We were the only ones out there and felt as if the show was put on just for our benefit. I wasn't expecting much so I was pleasantly surprised. When I returned home there was a message on my machine from a friend up in Nevada City who said they could see it from there (350 miles away). He is going to send you a report

Some more excellent shots of this launch are at Anthony Galván's site.

Here's an update on the payload of this launch: The WIRE satellite carried an infrared telescope that was supposed to operate for several months, cooled by solidified hydrogen. Unfortunately, the scope's aperture cover was opened prematurely, and the scope's interior was exposed to direct sunlight. The spacecraft was not designed for this eventuality. The sunlight evaporated the hydrogen ice very rapidly, depleting it and causing the satellite to tumble. The mission was, sadly, a total loss.

February 23, 1999 2:29 AM A Delta II rocket: Air Force mission, launching payloads from the Air Force, South Africa, and Denmark.

This was the most-often-postponed Delta II launch in the vehicle's history.

See Space Today for coverage of this launch.

February 10, 1999 at 12:01 AM A Minuteman III ICBM launch: A guidance test (designated GT-169 GM).

The launch occured somewhere between the start of the window and 10 minutes past the start. It was observed by at least two SkyLights subscribers:

    I had been completely out of rocket-watching mode, so I was surprised when I heard the loud exhaust from inside my house. It was, I think, around 12:10 and by the time I got to the window the rocket was out of my line of vision, but I could still hear the exhaust. The conditions for sound was unusually good because this was as loud as I've heard it. It actually sounded as if it were flying right over my house. The weather was very clear so I'm sorry I wasn't paying closer attention....JIM DREBERT
December 5, 1998 4:58 PM A Pegasus XL rocket: Payload was Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS).

This was a very nice viewing opportunity, since the launch took place shortly after sunset. For some excellent photos, see Space Online's SWAS coverage.

I was in a somewhat disadvantageous viewing location at the time of launch -- the Costco parking lot in Poway, California. The skies to the west and northwest are partially obscured by nearby hills. I waited and watched the northwestern sky until nearly 5:00 (it was relatively cold for what I was wearing). The skies were very clear, but I didn't see anything. I returned to the car, and explained to my better half that I'd try my luck when we got home, since the launch window extends until 6:15. Upon pulling out of our parking space, I looked out one more time, and caught sight of the vehicle climbing out on its second stage engine. It looked a little comet-like, with a very small corona, and a very rapidly dissipating tail. The vehicle was clearly accelerating very rapidly, and appeared to be climbing very rapidly -- much more so than has been the case with previous Pegasus launches I have observed, or Delta launches, for that matter. The trajectory is usually more horizontal, to my recollection.

Anyway, I was only able to observe the second stage for around 30 seconds, at which time it burned out, leaving virtually no visible plume. Once we pulled out of the lot, we were able to see the first stage's plume, further to the north and much lower in the sky. It rapidly became twisted. By the time I got home (around 20 minutes after the launch), it looked like this.Pegasus XL/SWAS first stage plume, 20 minutes after launch.


November 6, 1998 at 5:37:52 AM A Delta II rocket: Iridium constellation replenishment mission (MS-11).

This was a nice one, timed well. It launched 1/2 hour before sunrise, giving those of us with clear skies the opportunity to watch the dawn-illuminated plume as the second stage accelerated southwards in the still-dark sky.

Here are some descriptions by SkyLights participants:

I woke up at 5:30 AM and stood by my window. It was a very clear morning and you could see the dawn's early light over the Santa Inez mountains to the East. Sure enough, at about 5:38 I could see the pad light up just over the horizon. It was like heat lightning but lasted several seconds until the rocket got off the ground. The orange exhaust was more visible than I thought it would be. From my angle (22 miles straight north) it appeared to be climbing vertically. Of course having seen a launch up close from the same location in the daytime, I knew that it was inclined toward the South about 10-15 degrees. As it leveled off more toward horizontal, I could only see a receding dot as it went directly away from me. A contrail became visible at about maybe 3,000 feet up as it flew into the sunlight. After 3 or 4 minutes I could barely see a tiny dot, then a large plume streaking behind it, I suppose, from entering the earth's upper atmosphere. The dot then appeared to be going down as it rounded the curvature of the earth In the future I think either Lompoc or Point Conception would be a dandy spot from which to observe. You would only miss the liftoff up to a few hundred feet. I don't recall hearing even a faint rumble, particularly since my window was shut (it was cold)

...............JIM DREBERT

So, I got up too. A little chilly, but me and my dog "jack" didn't mind. I waited and watched, and watched. Then a light, orangeish, arose from my right. Was that it I asked Jack ? Then I said to myself yep. I thrilled watching more flame colored light, and then a steady stream of a pencil line aftermath. I smiled, felt good (cheered a little) and looked around and realized that I was cheering for my entire neighborhood even though they were all asleep dreaming of their own star flights. Still following the flame grew smaller and smaller until it turned into just a small point of light. It you weren't following it, or had lost it, you would be lost in the sky searching for this small point of light. Then, as though the rocketeers had planned it, a show of plume of illuminated light and gas started filling the sky. Growing, spreading, and expanding to dazzle the eyes and tickle the minds began. While short in duration, it was the music of sky that I was there to see. Personally, I would be quick to want see more sky music, and more sky performances. But, until we lower the cost of getting to orbit, I will have to settle for these occasional sky concerts performed by the present concert promoters of the world of launch services.

Dr. Dave Dedawg
October 3, 1998 3:04 AM A Taurus rocket: An engineering mission, testing space tethers and sensor technology. (Taurus is built by the same company as Pegasus, Orbital Sciences Corporation, using similar technologies.)
September 18, 1998 1:01 AM A Minuteman III ICBM launch: Here's a report by Jim Drebert:
    I just happened to look out my back window (south) at 1 AM on Friday, September 18th and watched the minuteman missile launch. It was an unusually clear night. I didn't see the rocket until it was a thousand feet or so in the air, but I could see the reflection from the ground or launchpad area. It appeared similar to a lightning storm off in a distance. I am about 16 miles away from the launch site.

    [The sound] was a bit more than a faint rumble. I believe the night was moonless (new moon?) and the fact that it's quiet here on the central coast made it even more audible. It was interesting that the sound trailed the sight of the rocket by, as you say, a minute and a half. Although I didn't time it, it seemed much less than a minute.

    On a future launch from Northern Vandenberg to the West, I am going to explore the roads out by Point Sal for an optimum viewing place

    ...............JIM Drebert

September 9, 1998 at 2:13 PM A Delta II rocket: Iridium constellation replenishment mission (MS-10).
June 24, 1998 between 1:01 AM and 8:01 AM TWO Minuteman III ICBM launches: Two missions were scheduled. One of them, a "GRP" mission, was a guidance system test. The other was another readiness test ("GT") mission.
June 3, 1998 at 12:57 PM A Minuteman III ICBM: This was another, ordinary missile test, designated mission GT-167GB. They pull an operation missile out of a silo, ship it to VAFB, and launch it to the west, toward Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands. Launched from North Base. I happened to be present for the launch (along with my wife and a close friend), after attending the tour. Photos and a more detailed report are available here.

Jim Drebert reports:

We were on the opposite side of the launch pad (between Guadalupe and Pismo Beach) and also heard the rumbling but saw very little because of the cloud cover. I wanted to get closer, possibly up Black Road or Brown Road up Corralitos Canyon. Both of these approach the Minuteman Launch area but may be blocked by hills. Unfortunately we got a late start and at 12:59 pulled off the road and watched what we could.
May 17, 1998 at 2:16:56 PM Jim Drebert's photo of the May 17, 1998 Delta II/Iridium Mission 9 launchDelta II Iridium Mission 9, after postponements due to vehicle and range safety problems. 
May 13, 1998 between 8:52 and 9:02 AM Titan II (overhauled ICBM): Notice the small launch window? That's because this was a non-military launch. [Note that this is the same kind of launch vehicle that NASA used in the mid-60's in the Gemini program.] The payload was a weather satellite, designated NOAA-K, renamed NOAA-15, upon reaching orbit. (Unfortunately, the satellite has only partially deployed one of its antennae, causing intermittent failures when users attempt to command the satellite to transmit an image.)

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